Shining Lake Confirms Presence of Liquid on Saturn Moon Titan


A shining glint in a photograph shot by the Cassini probe confirmed to scientists that Saturn's moon Titan has surface lakes:

"Cassini has been looking for this mystical glint since reaching Saturn in 2004, but winter had shrouded the northern half of Titan. The sun began shining on this area, which contains more lakes than the southern hemisphere, in August 2009 during the moon’s spring equinox.

The glint comes from the southern shoreline of the sprawling Kraken Mare lake, which covers about 400,000 square kilometers of Titan’s surface. The image proves the lake has been stable for at least three years, indicating that Titan cycles liquid methane to its surface, said Ralf Jaumann, Cassini team member at the German Aerospace Center in Berlin, Germany."


  1. Drew says

    ^^^ Ha, funny. Let’s call it “Methane Island” to give “Fire Island” some company.

    Quick question: how do they know it’s liquid and not ice? Is the temperature still not cold enough for methane to be frozen, so they presume it’s liquid? I missed that part.

  2. Chris says

    The lake is probably not methane, but some more complex hydrocarbon. Methane freezes at -297F and boils at -259F. Titan has a mean temperature of -182F. What there could be is an equilibrium between atmospheric methane and methane dissolved in Titan’s lakes.

  3. Blake says

    We know it’s liquid and not ice because solid surfaces like ice never produce specular glints of light off their surfaces unless they’re absolutely smooth (or at least smooth on the scale of the electromagnetic radiation used to interrogate them, which here is 5 micron IR light from the sun). The synthetic aperture radar images produced by Cassini also show flat, featureless surfaces in these same areas at the pole AND its visible and infrared mapping spectrometer saw a HUGE infrared spectral absorption spike corresponding to ethane when it looked at one of these structures. There is no explanation that simultaneously satisfies all of these observational characteristics except large liquid lakes of ethane, methane, dissolved nitrogen and perhaps a little ethyne. As to the possibility of life in the enormous subsurface ocean of Europa and the speculative water ocean far below the surface hydrocarbon lakes on Titan, yes I agree. Often, I dream of the nature such creatures patiently awaiting our discovery under miles of Europan ice might take.