New research based on the findings of NASA’s Cassini spacecraft suggests that Saturn’s moon Titan shares yet another interesting similarity with our planet — a sea level that refers to the average elevation of ocean surfaces.
As noted by the Daily Mail, Titan is often referred to as Earth’s “toxic twin,” as it’s the only other object in our solar system whose surface features a stable form of liquid. But while Earth’s oceans and seas are made up of water, Titan features water ice covered by solid organic material, and rich hydrocarbon content in lieu of the liquid water found on our planet. Now, it also appears that this particular moon of Saturn has a sea level of its own, and several lakes that are located hundreds of feet above this average elevation.
In two new studies from Cornell University published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, researchers revealed new takeaways from the data gathered by the Cassini spacecraft, which crash-landed into Saturn last year after 13 years studying the ringed planet and its moons. EarthSky noted that the first study featured an end-of-mission topographical map of Saturn’s moon Titan, one which lead author Paul Corlies designed as an online resource for the scientific community. Soon after the map was made available for online use, it was accessed by Corlies’ professor, Alex Hayes, who led the second study and discovered that Titan’s seas are similar to Earth’s oceans, as they have a constant elevation linked to Titan’s gravitational pull.
On the level: new science results based on Cassini data reveal that–just like on Earth–most liquid on the surface of Saturn’s moon Titan lies at an average “sea level.” https://t.co/ev1j3E1etV pic.twitter.com/GjijrJC7FS
— CassiniSaturn (@CassiniSaturn) January 17, 2018
According to a press release from NASA that detailed Hayes’ study, Titan has a number of smaller lakes that can be found hundreds of feet above its sea level. This is another similarity Titan has with Earth, as our planet has several lakes at high elevation, including Lake Titicaca, which is found more than 12,000 feet (3,700 meters) above sea level.
The revelation that Titan appears to have a sea level and lakes of varying elevation is important, as the moon’s lakes and seas are most likely connected under the surface; NASA compares this to aquifer systems found on our planet. These are systems where water makes its way through underground porous rock, allowing nearby lakes to “communicate with each other and share a common liquid level.”
“We don’t see any empty lakes that are below the local filled lakes because, if they did go below that level, they would be filled themselves. This suggests that there’s flow in the subsurface and that they are communicating with each other,” Hayes explained, in a statement quoted by Gizmodo.
“It’s also telling us that there is liquid hydrocarbon stored on the subsurface of Titan.”
Aside from the aforementioned topographical map of Titan, Hayes’ team used data collected by Cassini’s radar instrument until a few months before the spacecraft’s “grand finale” that saw it burning up in Saturn’s atmosphere.