Letter abstract

Nature Geoscience 2, 851 - 854 (2009)
Published online: 29 November 2009 | doi:10.1038/ngeo698

Subject Category: Planetary science

An asymmetric distribution of lakes on Titan as a possible consequence of orbital forcing

O. Aharonson1, A. G. Hayes1, J. I. Lunine2, R. D. Lorenz3, M. D. Allison4 & C. Elachi5


A set of lakes filled or partially filled with liquid hydrocarbon and empty lake basins have been discovered in the high latitudes of Saturn's moon Titan1. These features were mapped by the radar instrument on the Cassini orbiter1, 2, 3, 4. Here we quantify the distribution of the lakes and basins, and show a pronounced hemispheric asymmetry in their occurrence. Whereas significant fractions of the northern high latitudes are covered by filled and empty lakes5, the same latitudes in the southern hemisphere are largely devoid of such features. We propose that in addition to known seasonal changes, the observed difference in lake distribution may be caused by an asymmetry in the seasons on Titan that results from the eccentricity of Saturn's orbit around the Sun. We suggest that the consequent hemispheric difference in the balance between evaporation and precipitation could lead to an accumulation of lakes in one of Titan's hemispheres. This effect would be modulated by, and reverse with, dynamical variations in the orbit. We propose that much like in the Earth's glacial cycles, the resulting vigorous hydrologic cycle6 has a period of tens of thousands of years and leads to active geologic surface modification in the polar latitudes.

  1. Department of Geological Planetary and Sciences, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California 91125, USA
  2. Lunar & Planetary Laboratory, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona 85721, USA
  3. Space Department (SRE), Applied Physics Laboratory, Johns Hopkins University, Laurel, Maryland 20723-6099, USA
  4. NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, New York, New York 10025, USA
  5. Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California 91109, USA

Correspondence to: O. Aharonson1 e-mail: oa@caltech.edu


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