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Pictures of Titan's Lakes 119

Posted by samzenpus
from the in-space-nobody-can-hear-you-fish dept.
sighted writes "For decades, scientists have wondered if the thick orange haze that shrouds Saturn's giant moon Titan hid lakes of liquid methane on the surface, but there was no way to confirm it, until now. The Cassini flyby of July 22, 2006 took these striking images and were released today."
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Pictures of Titan's Lakes

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  • or... (Score:1, Funny)

    by ReidMaynard (161608)
    Or...God has a leaky blue pen
  • by Stephen Tennant (936097) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @08:43PM (#17453122) Journal
    Swimming in liquid farts
    • by garcia (6573) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @10:45PM (#17454002) Homepage
      That would then be like vacationing in Bayonne, NJ or Scranton, PA and no one wants to do that.
    • Wait a second... You realize what this means? If there is (or was) life on Titan, Cassini will have found evidence of extraterrestrial sharts!
  • by suv4x4 (956391) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @08:44PM (#17453134)
    I heard they wander around the Solar system wrecking anything they see.
  • Confirmed? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Cthefuture (665326) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @08:44PM (#17453138)
    You mean "more evidence suggesting liquid"?

    Hardly proof.
    • by Teresita (982888)
      You mean "more evidence suggesting liquid"?

      Bingo. And they could have tinted the "life" pink in the Mars rock they found in Antarctica in 1996. At least the old black and white Mariner 4 photos were honest.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by iminplaya (723125)
      Well...they are blue.
    • Re:Confirmed? (Score:4, Informative)

      by Nasarius (593729) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @11:35PM (#17454414)
      They seem fairly certain. From the original Nature article [nature.com]:
      Only two hypotheses are consistent with the radiometric and morphological characteristics of the dark patches: either we are observing liquid-filled lakes on Titan today, or depressions and channels formed in the past have now been infilled by a very low-density deposit that is darker than any observed elsewhere on Titan. The absence of any aeolian features in this area makes low-density, porous, unconsolidated sediments unlikely. This, combined with the morphologic characteristics of the dark patches, leads us to conclude that the dark patches are lakes containing liquid hydrocarbons.
      • Mister Grumpy writes...

        I don't think this is conclusive. As one of the other earlier posts said, they have taken the rough areas and coloured them rock colour, and taken the smooth areas and coloured them water colour. At the edge of these 'lake' features there are intermediate regions which are pretty flat and might be either shallow lake or a flat shore. Or something else completly different.

        The article suggests we will in time know what we have. It is probably not sand because there aren't any dunes.

        • Given two arguments, one expressing two possible explanations for the evidence (the high radar absorption) and discounting one of these due to its unlikelihood, and another one saying "All the evidence for water before turned out to be wrong" the former is much more convincing. Because it is a scientific argument based on evidence. The false colour is irrelevant - the areas of low radar reflection still need an explanation, and "lake" is currently the most likely. You also seem to be under the impression th
          • by elrous0 (869638) *
            Not to put too fine a point on it, but the GP is right in that INTERPRETATION has a great deal of influence on these arguments. "Hard" science if often not nearly as hard as scientists like to pretend it is. Scientists can point to hard data and still come to very soft conclusions (like the infamous "canals" of Mars argument, which had very real photographic evidence behind it).

            Sometimes scientists see what they want to see (because it's their pet theory or because it will capture them headlines/grant mon

            • Well, I have no problems with that. Reservation is something that seems all to often to be lacking, from all kinds of people.
        • by Thraxen (455388)
          For the record, liquid water on Mmars hasn't been ruled out. Maybe you missed it, but a few weeks ago they found new channels that appear to have been formed by flowing water.
        • You honestly believe that the Earth is the only place in the Universe that ANY form of matter can be found in a liquid state?

          Wow, the odds that one of the three fundamental states of matter exists on only one of the trillions of rocks in the universe are so poor it actually boggles the mind to contemplate how poor they are. I mean, there are a lot of forms of matter and they turn liquid at different temps. Each of those rocks floating around out there houses lots of different forms of matter and each contai
  • ...of a ringworld actually. Now to texture map it to a 3D model of one.
    • ...The whole ringworld!

      It could last from a persons teens, into middle age, with no repeats...

      Could be you would turn Into a pak before finishing...

      I just want One trip into a planet at high speed in a General Products hull. (With stasis field at the end, of course...but that last second would look really cool!)

    • by Skater (41976)
      Can we exaggerate the vertical 20 times, then print pictures of that in textbooks?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by necro2607 (771790)
      I would imagine the imagine is a long strip like that because the Cassini radar instrument simply flew along in a straight line, therefore only capturing a narrow strip of surveyed data along that straight line (as opposed to getting a large square or circular capture).
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @08:48PM (#17453164)
    This other location at the Cassini site [nasa.gov], and this older article from the BBC [bbc.co.uk].

    The original article is in the journal Nature [nature.com], but you need a subscription to view it. You can still read the abstract [nature.com], though.
    • by Tablizer (95088)
      but you need a subscription to view it.

      But the article said you need radar to view it ;-P
           
  • I'm surprised this isn't being reported as evidence that cows once lived on Titan.
  • by LarryLong (899387) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @08:50PM (#17453192)
    Maybe the methane came from Uranus? Sorry. :)
    • by dpilot (134227)
      I believe the phrase from "Flash Bazbo, Space Explorer!" was,

      "Languish in caves of methane ice!"

      But at the moment, I can't even remember where the Flash Bazbo reference came from - maybe it was Firesign Theater.
    • by iDope (916846)
      That was the funniest Uranus joke I have heard in a while.
  • by Eto_Demerzel79 (1011949) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @08:57PM (#17453228)
    I can understand that if we found liquid water elsewhere in the solar system it should make news, but who cares about liquid methane? Afterall Jupiter (http://www.nineplanets.org/jupiter.html [nineplanets.org]) has "exotic" liquid metallic hydrogen and liquid helium. I doubt it is possible to drive any biologically important reactions at the temperatures present on Titan. We simply confirmed that our knowledge of the methane phase diagram is correct. Let me know if they find something useful, like platinum or palladium on Phobos...
    • by darkonc (47285) <stephen_samuel.bcgreen@com> on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @09:21PM (#17453372) Homepage Journal
      The reactions that we're used to will obviously not work on Titan, but there's always a (very small) possibility that other forms of life could could evolve in the context of methane seas. If nothing else, a liquid base would allow simple life forms to develop without having to figure out the physics of supporting themselves and move around (as per the way that life is believed to have evolved on earth).

      However, given that just about any chemical process is gonna run rather slow at the kinds of temperatures that exist on Titan we shouldn't expect any life that we find there to be very developed.

      The next obvious step is to send something down to swim in the methane oceans of titan, and see if it gets eaten (or, at least, finds signs of (non)organic life. I don' think that it's that much lower a probability than finding life signs on mars (presuming that we figure out how to look for methane-based life), although it's admittedly a bit more expensive to go to Jupiter than it is to go to Mars.

      • by Nasarius (593729) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @11:54PM (#17454584)
        Ehhh...the average surface temperature of Titan is estimated to be 90 Kelvin, compared to Mars at 210 Kelvin. It seems extremely unlikely that the kinds of chemical reactions necessary for any kind of life could occur.

        The discovery is a "big deal" because we know something about part of our solar system we didn't know before. If you read the articles, part of the discovery is a likely methane rainfall cycle, including "methanifers" (analogous to aquifers). It's fascinating stuff, IMO.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Urkki (668283)

          It seems extremely unlikely that the kinds of chemical reactions necessary for any kind of life could occur.

          To me, it seems extremely unlikely that we could give any kind of reliable estimate on how unlikely that is...

          OTOH, all we'd need is a version of Urey-Miller experiment that used (our best guess of) the chemicals and the environment of Titan. Then let it simmer for a time, and see if any promising complex chain forming molecules (such as our amino acids) appeared... I wonder if anybody has attempte

          • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

            OTOH, all we'd need is a version of Urey-Miller experiment that used (our best guess of) the chemicals and the environment of Titan. Then let it simmer for a time, and see if any promising complex chain forming molecules (such as our amino acids) appeared... I wonder if anybody has attempted such and experiment.

            It would definitely be worth a try if you had the glassware laying around but the temperature is still a problem. A more likely source for amino acids in an environment like Titan would probably b

            • by Alsee (515537)
              amino acids

              If there is life on Titan (or in any Titan-like enviornment elswhere), it is almost certainly based on something different than our amino acid model. As the prior poster said, an expereiment exploring Titanian chemistry would be looking for "promising complex chain forming molecules". He merely cited "(such as our amino acids)" as an illustrative example.

              -
          • I wonder if anybody has attempted such and experiment.


            I'm pretty sure there's a large-scale experiment underway right now... in orbit around Saturn.
        • Not exactly.

          It seems extremely unlikely that the kinds of chemical reactions necessary for life as we know it could occur.

          Life as we know it is water based, and so is restricted to temperatures where water is liquid. (Though some extremophiles have ways of keeping water liquid when it otherwise wouldn't be.) Any sort of life based on methane would be restricted to temperatures where methane is liquid. It may well be that life based on methane is impossible, but if so, it's because of the chemistry of

      • by qazsedcft (911254)
        although it's admittedly a bit more expensive to go to Jupiter than it is to go to Mars.

        First, Titan is a moon of Saturn not Jupiter. Second, in most solar system models you can't see this clearly, but Jupiter is more than three times further from us than Mars and Saturn is almost two times further than Jupiter. So, not even considering other technical aspects, it's a lot more expensive to go there than to go to Mars.
    • by oohshiny (998054)
      I can understand that if we found liquid water elsewhere in the solar system it should make news, but who cares about liquid methane?

      Well, quite apart from biology, it's certainly an interesting comparison in terms of surface features and geology.

      I doubt it is possible to drive any biologically important reactions at the temperatures present on Titan.

      I don't see why not; biology has managed to cope with nearly the entire temperature range over which water is liquid on this planet, so why shouldn't biochemic
      • Well, quite apart from biology, it's certainly an interesting comparison in terms of surface features and geology.

        Isn't mars more interesting with its weather patterns and erosion that possibly could have been caused by water(!)? Even if mars never had water present on the surface, the scale and topography is closer to earth.

        I don't see why not; biology has managed to cope with nearly the entire temperature range over which water is liquid on this planet, so why shouldn't biochemical reactions adapt to

        • by oohshiny (998054)
          Isn't mars more interesting with its weather patterns and erosion that possibly could have been caused by water(!)? Even if mars never had water present on the surface, the scale and topography is closer to earth.

          I don't understand why it would be "more" interesting; in fact, given the similarity of Mars to earth, and given how much data we already have on it, it seems to me that more bodies rather than more data from Mars would be more interesting. Geologically, in addition to Titan, Io and Europa would b
    • by firenurse (911721)
      As an energy source it is interesting. But by the time it could be utilized here; hopefully, we will have developed cleaner alternative fuels. Perhaps as a "pit stop" on the highway out or our neck of the galaxy?
      • Perhaps as a "pit stop" on the highway out or our neck of the galaxy?
        It could definitely help with refueling. It would probably be necessary to develop a method to convert the methane into a useful fuel such as acetylene.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by CorSci81 (1007499)
      I worked on this project as a grad student at Caltech, so I think I may actually have something useful to add. The reason we care is that Titan is the only other body in the solar system to exhibit anything remotely analogous to a hydrological cycle at Earth-like atmospheric pressure, and with observable surface geology. This is useful because it gives us a solar system analog to weather, hydrology, and hydrological weathering; which will benefit us in understanding how our own planet works. The only oth
      • If you can get past the temperature issue and replace water with methane/ethane

        As a former chemist I have a hard time doing that...you cannot dissolve ions in a liquid methane/ethane environment. This makes most life sustaining reactions impossible in that kind of environment. I do agree that it will help us understand weather patterns on Earth but we could probably have gotten the same information if we spent the money on geological research rather than sending up a rocket.

  • Here's a question... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by robogymnast (755411)
    Why did it take them 6 months to release the images?
    • by AHuxley (892839)
      Had to sort the images with no 'billboards' for human or horse products.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Swimport (1034164)
      Why did it take them 6 months to release the images?

      Because thats how long it took to false color the image to look like a desert with lakes...
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Ingolfke (515826)
      Why did it take them 6 months to release the images?

      2 answers

      Timing really doesn't matter
      How would this information have helped you in July of 2006? It's an interesting fact, but is it really need-to now so much that 6 months... 18 months... 5 years... really matters for 99.9% of the population?

      Verified science, not pre-released junk
      When Scientists release data before they can properly analyze and understand it they can create misunderstandings. The media poorly reports the data, typically just reporting
    • by Nasarius (593729)
      I take it you've never published in a peer-reviewed journal before. The raw images [nasa.gov] were probably available, but it takes some careful analysis of all the data to determine what they were seeing, and you want to have those conclusions verified by fellow scientists before announcing it to the world.
  • it is good that the liqid question is answered, as liquid methane is somthing that some view as possible environ of life, just as those who believe water on Mars means likely life. The issue though is whether conditions were ever favorable enough, long enough for life to develope. If we establish Titan's parameters, and Mar's parameters, we might come up with some of the values in drakes equation http://www.activemind.com/Mysterious/Topics/SETI/d rake_equation.html [activemind.com] the answeres might not be what we want, h
    • by Ingolfke (515826)
      Huh? You'd have to find life on Mars and Titan to determine those paramters because the paramters are used to plug into a probability formulas for the likelihood of life existing under certain conditions. If you can't prove life exists or existed there how the hell are you supposed to know the conditions can produce life?
      • by wallet55 (1045366)
        no. if you found that mars had water and conditions favorable to life for x number of years,but there was never life, that would extend our understanding of some of the drake equation parts. it would trim some of the edges off the variables upper or lower limits, because right now all we have is one example where life did form. I have heard people work on the assumption that anytime conditions are right, life forms. this may not be true. it may be an exceptional set of conditions, and it may be even then to
  • by AHuxley (892839) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @09:27PM (#17453418) Homepage Journal
  • by mollymoo (202721) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @10:00PM (#17453672) Journal
    Am I the only one who can remember that we put a lander [esa.int] on Titan a good 18 months prior to taking this image? The presence of liquid methane on the surface was confirmed [esa.int] one week later. Nice image, bad caption.
    • If you don't produce a steady stream of non-achievements people might start saying things like "Hey, what did that 3.26 billion dollars (http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/faq/mission.cfm) we just gave you for the Cassini project actually accomplish?" This way, you can say "Hey, the Cassini project CONFIRMED the existence of LIQUID which is almost like WATER which is a prerequisite for LIFE which would be the BIGGEST DISCOVERY EVER."
      • by Slashcrap (869349)
        If you don't produce a steady stream of non-achievements people might start saying things like "Hey, what did that 3.26 billion dollars (http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/faq/mission.cfm) we just gave you for the Cassini project actually accomplish?" This way, you can say "Hey, the Cassini project CONFIRMED the existence of LIQUID which is almost like WATER which is a prerequisite for LIFE which would be the BIGGEST DISCOVERY EVER."

        It's too early in the morning to come up with an eloquent and coherent response to
    • by sighted (851500)
      The interesting part of this data is not the mere presence of liquid methane, but the imagery that appears to show entire lakes. Before the Huygens probe landed, many hoped it would see such lakes - or even splash down in one (see this pre-landing article from the ESA [esa.int], for example). While some evidence suggests Huygens' touch-down point may have once been covered by liquid, the lander didn't see any lakes or oceans directly. So these latest findings just make the overall nature of Titan's 'hydrologic' syste
    • by Tablizer (95088) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @11:50PM (#17454546) Journal
      The lander did *not* detect existing pooled or flowing liquid. The radar evidence appears to be the first evidence of existing pooled/flowing liquid. The lander found plenty of *hints* of erosion typical of that associated with liquid, but it did not detect any active liquid (except maybe methane mist). The area it landed at is often characterized as a "dry lake bed".
  • So, did they finally find the Sirens [amazon.com]?

  • by tinrobot (314936) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @10:36PM (#17453948)
    ...except Minnesota seems way colder that Titan.
    • by iminplaya (723125)
      Let's hope it smells better
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Tablizer (95088)
      ...except Minnesota seems way colder that Titan.

      Don't worry, the Bush administration and Exxon are working hard and diligently to warm it up.
             
    • by rossdee (243626) *
      Not this winter.

      Its 34f (1c) outside and its after 11pm

      Did they spot any fish houses on Titan?
      • you beat me to it... And I even missed out on the fantastic snowfall you guys had just after Christmas. Sigh, at least it's stopped raining in Seattle for the moment.
    • Apparently you haven't been to Minnesota yet this year. This winter SUCKS!!! It's 6:53am in JANUARY, and it's friggin 35 degrees outside... Damned El Nino...
  • ... have known it for a long time.
  • ... or is the lake near the middle of the picture shaped like a giant fish? No wonder the Face on Mars has vanished, he's gone fishing on Titan!
  • One of the rocks out there might be wet. Possibly. Well, that was 3.26 billion dollars well spent. (http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/faq/mission.cfm)
  • by bmo (77928)
    Cue 80's band.... (The Creatures was the best music ever to come out of Siouxie and the Banshees)

    PLUTO DRIVE (The Creatures)

    Let's go to Pluto, the atmosphere's clear
    We'll be really cool there, with nothing to fear
    Let's go to Pluto, it's cold and it's damp
    Where children are heroes, death is high camp

    I want to see Pluto, I want to have fun
    I want to turn blue under an alien sun
    Oh let me see Pluto, it seems such a gas
    With oceans of methane and petrified grass

    CHORUS:
    Let's go to Pluto
    Let's live on the dot
    See the
  • Looks more like to me they found Halo, took it's heightmap data and are trying to say they actually saw something on Titan.

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