“It’s an unsettling combination of strangeness yet similarity to Earth.”

The latest image from Nasa’s Cassini mission is the first observed flash of sunlight reflected off a northern lake on Saturn’s moon Titan.Sunlight reflection on Titan

Team members at the University of Arizona in Tucson processed the image further. They were able to pinpoint the reflection at the southern shoreline of a lake called Kraken Mare. The sprawling Kraken Mare covers about 400,000 square kilometers (150,000 square miles), an area larger than the Caspian Sea, the largest lake on Earth.

By comparing this new image to radar and near-infrared images acquired since 2006, scientists were able to show that the shoreline of Kraken Mare has been stable over the last three years and that Titan has an ongoing hydrological cycle that brings liquids to the surface. Of course, in this case, the liquid in the hydrological cycle is methane rather than water, as it is on Earth.

There’s already a plan to go sailing there..

The Titan Mare Explorer (TiME) has already been under study for about two years. It is envisaged as a relatively low-cost endeavour – in the low $400m range.

It could launch in January 2016, and make some flybys of Earth and Jupiter to pick up the gravitational energy it would need to head straight at the Saturnian moon for a splash down in June 2023.

The scientists have a couple of seas in mind for their off-world maritime research vessel. Ligeia Mare and Kraken Mare are both about 500km across.

The primary objective of the mission would be to determine the precise chemistry of one of these lakes; but also to do meteorology, to help scientists better understand how the “methane-ologic cycle” on Titan actually works.

, , ,