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Titan's Lakes of Methane and Ethane 53

Rob Carr writes "During the most recent Cassini fly-by, the surface-mapping radar spotted what appear to be lakes in the high northern latitudes of Titan. From the article: 'The channels have a shape that strongly implies they were carved by liquid. Some of the dark patches and connecting channels are completely black, that is, they reflect back essentially no radar signal, and hence must be extremely smooth. In some cases rims can be seen around the dark patches, suggesting deposits that might form as liquid evaporates.' At Titan's temperatures, water is a solid; the lakes would be comprised of methane and ethane. The fluids are different, as are the temperatures, but these lakes cement Titan's status in the solar system as the place with the most earth-like weather — except for Earth, of course."
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Titan's Lakes of Methane and Ethane

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  • I think it'll be a while before we get any humans there anyway. Why don't we grow the moon, Spore-style?
  • Fluid (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MichaelSmith ( 789609 ) on Wednesday July 26, 2006 @07:56AM (#15782846) Homepage Journal

    I remember that when the Huygens probe landed there were lots of pictures of dark areas presumed to be lakes with channels leading into them from higher ground. But the probe landed close to a channel and didn't see any liquid.

    Later the consensus was that the channels seen from Huygens were dry channels left over from flows in the past.

    The evidence in this case seems to be the darkness (in radar) of the "lakes", which imply that we are seeing liquid Methane or Ethane. So why are these areas different from the Huygens landing site? It is in a polar area (gee I wish we had a second probe now) but most of the heat on Titan comes from internal sources anyway so having the sun close to th horizon won't make it much colder.

    In any event Arthur Clarke is looking more right then wrong at the moment, We should be on the lookout for a Methane Monsoon.

    • Re:Fluid (Score:2, Informative)

      by Tablizer ( 95088 )
      I remember that when the Huygens probe landed there were lots of pictures of dark areas presumed to be lakes with channels leading into them from higher ground.....Later the consensus was that the channels seen from Huygens were dry channels left over from flows in the past. The evidence in this case seems to be the darkness (in radar) of the "lakes", which imply that we are seeing liquid...So why are these areas different from the Huygens landing site?

      The darkness in the areas where Huygens landed was ph
  • Titan is amazing (Score:5, Interesting)

    by GreggBz ( 777373 ) on Wednesday July 26, 2006 @07:59AM (#15782852) Homepage
    We are pretty certain it has liquid lakes, but it may
    have caves [newscientistspace.com] as well.

    We know so little about our solar system.

  • None at all to explore the solar system. We are wasting money that would be better spent feeding people who are too lazy too feed themselves. I just love democrats, I just got through being berated by my ex-mother in law for being excited about this story and space exploration in general. I guess she doesn't get that we'll have to move out there one day because this planet will be too crowded. She says people need to wise up and stop breeding so fast so we can achieve a stable population with zero growth. W
    • Have you ever heard the term "family planning" or do you just keep screwing until someone shouts "I'm pregnant"?

      I was born the year after sputnik was launched and have lived through the history of space exploration, the hubble pictures are worth every cent. Space exploration has shown mankind that we all live on what Carl Sagan called a pale blue dot [infoimagination.org]. It has also shown us that it is all we have got, it's our collective "bird in the hand".
    • sex != reproduction, since the birth control pill and even counting days.
    • Yeah. Those stupid Democrats. Why, if it were up to Democrats, we never would have gone to the moon!

      Fortunately, we have a wise, fiscally responsible Republican administration in office--one that would never waste money entrusted to it by the taxpayers of this country on anything irresponsible.
      • Not Democrats, John Kennedy. To the chagrin of his own party he managed to keep his promise to get to the moon despite strenuous efforts to derail the program by democrats who were already mad about the tax cuts he pushed through. Read a history book sometime, it may open your eyes.
        • If Kennedy was the only thing keeping the Democrats from KO'ing the moonshot/space program, then how come NASA's Houston command post is called Johnson Space Center?

          And listen, mac. Maybe you don't want him to be one, but that still doesn't change the fact that JFK was a Democrat. Not a single history book I've ever read attempts to claim otherwise. If you judged a President's party affiliation by how in sync he was with the rest of the gang, then this country hasn't had a Democratic President since Andy J

    • I don't think it matters much. I expect that machines be smarter than us in a generation.
           
  • I just recently finished a fascinating article in "Artificial Life II" from the Santa Fe Institute in the Sciences of Complexity. The author used Cellular Automata (think Conway's game of life) to show that complex structures only occur when the rules of the Cellular automata fall within a certain range of the possible sets of rules.

    The range works like this (this is over-simplified btw):

    • If the rules tend too much towards the "quiescent state" (think all the cells turning black in conways game of life),
    • Finally this puts forward my hypothesis that life may only require liquids to form (i.e. perhaps it's not necessary to have liquid _water_, but just liquid something).

      Diffusion in solids is prohibitively slow. The common molecules that could form information-storing polymers are very, very insoluble in gases. That pretty much leaves liquids. I wouldn't say that life could never evolve without the benefit of liquids, but it could require timescales far longer than the current age of the universe.

      I high
  • On the Cassini-Huygens Home page ( http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/home/index.cfm [nasa.gov] ) we read that:

    "These lakes appear to be filled with hydrocarbon liquids, possibly making Titan the only place other than Earth known to contain lakes."

    This statement is a bit misleading since there are lava lakes on both the Earth and on Jupiter's moon Io. The Earth's lava is primarily silicon, while Io's lava is primarily sulfur, but remember that on Titan water is considered a rock.

I've never been canoeing before, but I imagine there must be just a few simple heuristics you have to remember... Yes, don't fall out, and don't hit rocks.

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