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The lakes of Titan


The surface of Saturn’s haze-shrouded moon Titan has long been proposed to have oceans or lakes, on the basis of the stability of liquid methane at the surface1,2. Initial visible3 and radar4,5 imaging failed to find any evidence of an ocean, although abundant evidence was found that flowing liquids have existed on the surface5,6. Here we provide definitive evidence for the presence of lakes on the surface of Titan, obtained during the Cassini Radar flyby of Titan on 22 July 2006 (T16). The radar imaging polewards of 70° north shows more than 75 circular to irregular radar-dark patches, in a region where liquid methane and ethane are expected to be abundant and stable on the surface2,7. The radar-dark patches are interpreted as lakes on the basis of their very low radar reflectivity and morphological similarities to lakes, including associated channels and location in topographic depressions. Some of the lakes do not completely fill the depressions in which they lie, and apparently dry depressions are present. We interpret this to indicate that lakes are present in a number of states, including partly dry and liquid-filled. These northern-hemisphere lakes constitute the strongest evidence yet that a condensable-liquid hydrological cycle is active in Titan’s surface and atmosphere, in which the lakes are filled through rainfall and/or intersection with the subsurface ‘liquid methane’ table.

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Figure 1: Northern portion of the T 16 swath.
Figure 2: Radar return from the darkest observed lake.
Figure 3: Examples of lakes from the T 16 swath.


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We gratefully acknowledge the long years of work by the entire Cassini team that allowed these data of Titan to be obtained. The Cassini Project is a joint endeavour of NASA, ESA and ASI, managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology under a contract with NASA.

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Correspondence to E. R. Stofan.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

This file contains Supplementary Figure which shows northern portion of the T16 swath. This portion of the T16 swath contains the dark patches interpreted as lakes. The image swath is shown in a polar projection; for scale, one degree of latitude is about 45 km. (PDF 1942 kb)

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Stofan, E., Elachi, C., Lunine, J. et al. The lakes of Titan. Nature 445, 61–64 (2007).

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