Cassini's final view of Titan's northern lakes and seas

September 13, 2018 by Gretchen Mccartney, Jet Propulsion Laboratory
During NASA's Cassini mission's final distant encounter with Saturn's giant moon Titan, the spacecraft captured this view of the enigmatic moon's north polar landscape of lakes and seas, which are filled with liquid methane and ethane. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI

During NASA's Cassini mission's final distant encounter with Saturn's giant moon Titan, the spacecraft captured the enigmatic moon's north polar landscape of lakes and seas, which are filled with liquid methane and ethane.

They were captured on Sept. 11, 2017. Four days later, Cassini was deliberately plunged into the atmosphere of Saturn.

Punga Mare (240 miles, or 390 kilometers, across) is seen just above the center of the mosaic, with Ligeia Mare (300 miles, or 500 kilometers, wide) below center and the vast Kraken Mare stretching off 730 miles (1,200 kilometers) to the left of the mosaic. Titan's numerous smaller lakes can be seen around the seas and scattered around the right side of the mosaic. Among the ongoing mysteries about Titan is how these lakes are formed.

Another mystery at Titan has been the weather. With its dense atmosphere, Titan has a methane cycle much like Earth's water cycle of evaporation, cloud formation, rainfall, surface runoff into rivers, and collection in lakes and seas. During Titan's southern summer, Cassini observed cloud activity over the south pole.

However, typical of observations taken during northern spring and summer, the view here reveals only a few small clouds. They appear as bright features just below the center of the mosaic, including a few above Ligeia Mare.

"We expected more symmetry between the southern and northern summer," said Elizabeth ("Zibi") Turtle of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab and the Cassini Imaging Science Subsystem (ISS) team that captured the image. "In fact, atmospheric models predicted summer clouds over the northern latitudes several years ago. So, the fact that they still hadn't appeared before the end of the mission is telling us something interesting about Titan's methane cycle and weather."

"Titan is a fascinating place that really teases us with some of its mysteries," said Turtle.

The images in this mosaic were taken with the ISS narrow-angle camera, using a spectral filter sensitive to wavelengths of near-infrared light centered at 938 nanometers.

The view was obtained at a distance of approximately 87,000 miles (140,000 kilometers) from Titan. Image scale is about 0.5 miles (800 meters) per pixel. The image is an orthographic projection centered on 67.19 degrees north latitude, 212.67 degrees west longitude. An orthographic view is most like the view seen by a distant observer looking through a telescope.

Explore further: Image: Cloud activity returns to Titan's northern latitudes

Related Stories

Watching summer clouds on Titan

November 7, 2016

NASA's Cassini spacecraft watched clouds of methane moving across the far northern regions of Saturn's largest moon, Titan, on Oct. 29 and 30, 2016.

Image: Titan's sunlit edge

December 3, 2013

( —The sunlit edge of Titan's south polar vortex stands out distinctly against the darkness of the moon's unilluminated hazy atmosphere. The Cassini spacecraft images of the vortex led scientists to conclude that ...

Cassini tracks clouds developing over a Titan sea

August 12, 2014

( —NASA's Cassini spacecraft recently captured images of clouds moving across the northern hydrocarbon seas of Saturn's moon Titan. This renewed weather activity, considered overdue by researchers, could finally ...

Cassini sees sunny seas on Titan

October 30, 2014

( —As it soared past Saturn's large moon Titan recently, NASA's Cassini spacecraft caught a glimpse of bright sunlight reflecting off hydrocarbon seas.

Recommended for you

Meteorite source in asteroid belt not a single debris field

February 17, 2019

A new study published online in Meteoritics and Planetary Science finds that our most common meteorites, those known as L chondrites, come from at least two different debris fields in the asteroid belt. The belt contains ...

Diagnosing 'art acne' in Georgia O'Keeffe's paintings

February 17, 2019

Even Georgia O'Keeffe noticed the pin-sized blisters bubbling on the surface of her paintings. For decades, conservationists and scholars assumed these tiny protrusions were grains of sand, kicked up from the New Mexico desert ...

Archaeologists discover Incan tomb in Peru

February 16, 2019

Peruvian archaeologists discovered an Incan tomb in the north of the country where an elite member of the pre-Columbian empire was buried, one of the investigators announced Friday.

Where is the universe hiding its missing mass?

February 15, 2019

Astronomers have spent decades looking for something that sounds like it would be hard to miss: about a third of the "normal" matter in the Universe. New results from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory may have helped them ...

What rising seas mean for local economies

February 15, 2019

Impacts from climate change are not always easy to see. But for many local businesses in coastal communities across the United States, the evidence is right outside their doors—or in their parking lots.


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1.4 / 5 (11) Sep 13, 2018
"Does anyone still remember the pyramids, faces and other signs of civilization on Mars? Does anyone still remember the debacle of landing the Cassini-Huygens probe to the surface of Titan into the oceans of hydrocarbons (methane and ethane) to the opposite of a frozen desert, which had been found there? Does anyone still remember the rings around Pluto? The missions without probes to land on the surface are nowadays been sent to Titan, as it is easier to defend the tales based on the blurry photos, which are anyway computer-processed (photoshopped) with fake colors added, than on the unwanted evidence from the very spot.

It can be estimated that we will be listening to this rubbish until the industry will have their interests on Mars, Titan and until they will need new financial resources." https://www.svemi...-correct
Phyllis Harmonic
4.6 / 5 (9) Sep 13, 2018
wduckss - Does anyone remember you actually making sense?
not rated yet Sep 14, 2018
I'm speculating, with only the tiniest of shred of evidence, that we are observing the Northern hemisphere of Titan during a long-cycle drought. It will take observations over many years to decide the accuracy of my guess.

The other question I have. If there was an indigenous biology on Titan? Processing the methane and other hydrocarbons? Could known biological processes, consuming hydrocarbons and emitting methane, explain the present atmosphere of Titan?

Cause isn't that process how we explain our Earth's present oxygen atmosphere?
1 / 5 (1) Sep 14, 2018
@ Phy. Ha.
You are not interested. evidence, you are interested in stories. What are you looking for in the scientific portal?
"Twenty years have passed since the landing of the rover on the surface of Mars in the search for water, the life on Mars and the runaway atmosphere. After twenty years of searching and wandering around the carefully chosen sites on Mars, not a single drop of water nor a single evidence of its possible existence have been found. For the twenty years now we have been listening and reading the same incoherent tales about water existing on Mars. The explanations get more and more convincing; it is been prophesied from sand, stones, craters, taluses, ditches and channels, frozen surface (CO2) which does not evaporate water (H2O) ... For the twenty years the rovers have been searching for water without a single positive shred of evidence. When will the expiration date for these tales come and when will the presentation of science start? "
2.6 / 5 (5) Sep 14, 2018
After twenty years of searching and wandering around the carefully chosen sites on Mars, not a single drop of water nor a single evidence of its possible existence have been found.

Christ, what an idiot! Don't read the scientific literature do you, woo boy?
Why does this place attract so many pillocks? There must be a global contagion of Dunning-Kruger syndrome. Maybe it was the fall out from Chernobyl. Created a genetic mutation that turned certain, ordinary people, with low to moderate IQs, into rampant physics cranks.
Maybe I'll write that up. After I create a crank science website to post it on.

not rated yet Sep 15, 2018
Interesting. That's what you offer. Evidence? You sure do not know how the evidence looks. Try to offer something (from proof). Vulgar speech and noise are not evidence.

"Titan's hemispheres have responded in different ways to these seasonal changes. The wintry effects have led to a temperature drop of 72 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius) in the southern polar stratosphere over the last four years."
The average temperature of Titan (-179,5°C)(-179,5°C + (-40°C) = ? Try reading and understanding read.
not rated yet Sep 15, 2018
JD, I would prefer to think of myself as a bullock!

Butt, if you want to categorize the EU cranks and the anti-GR/SR/QM fcultists? I would suggest the the title of "wether" for them.

And you are considering the wrong contaminant to explain the commentators on this site. We are the older generation poisoned by lead pollutants.

It is the generations following us who will be most effected by all the radioactive pollution to the Earth's Biosphere.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.