Saturn's moon, Titan, is beginning to look awfully familiar. Its dense atmosphere, combined with the lakes and rivers that wind their way across its surface already make it a great contender for potential extraterrestrial life. Now, new data brought back from NASA's Cassini-Huygens mission makes it even more Earth-like.

According to the data, nearly 2% of Titan's surface is covered in liquid (620,000 square miles, or 1.6 million square kilometers). The moon has three large seas and a number of smaller lakes connected by rivers and rivulets located in its northern hemisphere, and one large lake in the south. NASA researchers previously believed the liquid to be ethane, which is produced when "sunlight breaks methane molecules apart," said Alice Le Gall, a member of the Cassini radar team who led the study into the makeup of the moon's liquid reservoirs.

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Instead, the team found that at least one of the seas is made of pure liquid methane.

Liquid methane rain

This discovery implies that the lakes are not created through a natural breakdown of molecules, instead using a different process to create the bodies of water. Le Gall states a number of other possibilities for the absence of ethane in the sea, such as an undersea crust absorbing it all. It's also possible that the ethane flows from Ligeia Mare, the sea used in the study, into the nearby sea, Kraken Mare.

There's a good chance, though, that the moon is using a process more similar to something we all know here on Earth: rainfall. Of course, the rain on Titan's surface would be made of pure liquid methane, but the process would look as similar as the results do: lakes, trickling rivers, and a very Earth-like shoreline.

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More research is necessary to understand Titan's conditions better, but the idea that the moon is becoming more and more like Earth is an exciting one. "It's a marvelous feat of exploration that we're doing extraterrestrial oceanography on an alien moon," said Steve Wall, deputy lead of the Cassini radar team. "Titan just won't stop surprising us." #Space #Science #Environment