Saturn‘s moon Titan may be home to a tropical lake the size of the Great Salt Lake, according to scientists who spotted the mass of liquid methane, along with smaller swamp-like features using data from the Cassini spacecraft.
Cassini is currently touring the Saturn system, ans has already revealed lakes at Titan’s poles, which appear to be fed by summertime methane rain, according to Christian Science Monitor. Cassini’s radar, however, found nothing similar at lower altitudes, and climate models have also suggested that long-lived lakes may be impossible anywhere but near the poles.
According to the Christian Science Monitor, the discovery of the massive, shallow body of water in the tropics may offer clues to scientists about the process driving a moon, which has similar characteristics to Earth before life emerged.
Yahoo News reports that study lead author Caitlin Griffith, a planetary scientist at the University of Arizona at Tucson, stated:
“Titan’s tropical lake is roughly the size of the Great Salt Lake in Utah during its lowest recorded level. Our work also suggests the existence of a handful of smaller and shallower ponds similar to marshes on Earth with knee- to ankle-level depths.”
Griffith notes as well that a number of models of the moon Titan show that methane’s behavior should make lakes unstable at the moon’s tropical latitudes. She further explained:
“Any liquid deposited in the tropical surface evaporates quickly and eventually is transported by Titan’s circulation to the poles, where the large polar lakes appear.”
Upon discovering the massive body of liquid methane, Griffith stated that:
“This discovery was absolutely not expected. Lakes at the poles are easy to explain, but lakes in the tropics are not.”