The NASA and European Space Agency Cassini mission has revealed hundreds of lakes and seas on Saturn’s moon Titan. These lakes are filled not with water but with hydrocarbons, a form of organic compound that is also found naturally on Earth and includes methane. The liquid is thought to be replenished by rainfall from clouds in the moon’s atmosphere. But how liquids move and cycle through Titan’s crust and atmosphere is still relatively unknown.
A recent study led by Olivier Mousis, a Cassini research associate at the University of Franche-Comté, France, examined how Titan’s methane rainfall would interact with icy materials within underground reservoirs. They found that the formation of materials called clathrates changes the chemical composition of the rainfall runoff that charges these hydrocarbon “aquifers.” This process leads to the formation of reservoirs of propane and ethane that may feed into some rivers and lakes.
“We knew that a significant fraction of the lakes on Titan’s surface might possibly be connected with hidden bodies of liquid beneath Titan’s crust, but we just didn’t know how they would interact,” Mousis said. “Now, we have a better idea of what these hidden lakes or oceans could be like.”
The study was published in the September 1 issue of the journal Icarus. The research was funded by the French Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES) and NASA.
For more on the Titan research, see this NASA press release.