Infrared imaging by JPL’s Cassini spacecraft has shown the existence of large methane lakes near the equator of Saturn’s moon Titan. One of them is about the size of Utah’s Great Salt Lake at its lowest recorded level and is at least three feet deep. The spacecraft also discovered smaller, shallower “ponds” nearby similar to marshes on Earth, with knee- to ankle-level depths.
Astronomers have previously observed large methane lakes near Titan’s poles, but the discovery of the “tropical” lakes is a surprise because it was generally assumed that this region was too warm to allow such lakes to exist for any length of time. Titan’s weather system is similar to Earth’s in one respect, but with liquid methane instead of water. The methane near the equator evaporates and is transported by winds to the poles, where it condenses back into a liquid.
…Like water vapor, which dissociates in the upper atmosphere to form ozone, methane is also dissociated by sunlight to produce reactive carbon atoms that can combine to form organic chemicals such as amino acids. Such compounds have been detected in Titan’s atmosphere and are the basis of some researchers’ speculation that Titan may harbor life forms of some sort.
Hot off the presses!
Fresh from the minds of the Washingtonian team and editor Garret Graff!
Our tech scene (DC) is the hottest it’s been since the dot-com glory days of the 1990s, with big investment by government in IT, surging green-energy programs, growing biotech research, and start-ups such as LivingSocial. Here are the people who are making this region grow.
And, our very own Titans!
From the magazine:
Amy Senger and Steven Mandzik
Founders of the consulting firm 1X57, they’ve become influential in Gov 2.0 circles—and have helped usher the CIA into the age of social media.