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Lakes on Titan filled with ethane, methane and not water

Titan, or Saturn VI, is the largest moon of Saturn, the only natural satellite known to have a dense atmosphere, and the only object other than Earth for which clear evidence of stable bodies of surface liquid has been found.

WASHINGTON (BNS): The Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn, a collaboration between the European Space Agency and NASA, five years ago, sent a probe through Titan's atmosphere, revealing that Titan is home to a landscape that includes hills, valleys and most notably lakes.

A researcher involved with the mission, Prof. Akiva Bar-Nun of Tel Aviv University's Department of Geophysics and Planetary Sciences, has now determined the composition of these lakes.

Taking into account the chemical components of Titan's atmosphere, he has demonstrated that the lakes are not composed of water but contain liquid hydrocarbons like ethane and methane, which are also found in oil and gas wells on Earth.

"Titan's unique atmosphere does not include nitrogen and oxygen like Earth's, but rather nitrogen and methane. Solar irradiation of the methane in Titan's atmosphere produces a variety of hydrocarbon gases, which condense in the atmosphere and fall to the surface of Saturn's moon," Prof. Bar-Nun was quoted as saying in a report published in the Journal of Geophysical Research -- Planets.

"Upon reaching the cold surface, they liquefy, raining down, flowing through the gullies and accumulating into lakes -- but you wouldn't want to jump into them on a summer holiday. Further solar irradiation of these hydrocarbons in the atmosphere also produces tiny globules of polymers, or aerosols, which give Titan its famed orange glow," he added.

Titan, one of Saturn's moons, is the only moon in the solar system with an atmosphere -- ten times denser than the atmosphere of Earth. The chemical processes on Titan are different than those on Earth because there is no water vapour in Titan's air, leading to hydrocarbon-based lakes unlike those seen on Earth.


Saturn  Titan  Moon  

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