PASADENA, Calif. (AP) - At least one of many large, lake-like
features on Saturn's moon Titan studied by the international
Cassini spacecraft contains liquid hydrocarbons, making it the only
body in the solar system besides Earth known to have liquid on its
surface, NASA said Wednesday.
Scientists positively identified the presence of ethane, according to a statement from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, which manages the Cassini mission exploring Saturn, its rings and moons.
Liquid ethane is a component of crude oil.
Cassini has made more than 40 close flybys of Titan, a giant
planet-sized satellite of the ringed world.
Scientists had theorized that Titan might have oceans of
methane, ethane and other hydrocarbons, but Cassini found hundreds
of dark, lake-like features instead, and it wasn't known at first
whether they were liquid or dark, solid material, JPL's statement
"This is the first observation that really pins down that Titan
has a surface lake filled with liquid," Bob Brown, team leader of
Cassini's visual and mapping instrument, said in the statement.
The instrument was used during a December flyby to observe a
feature dubbed Ontario Lacus, in the south polar region, that is
about 7,800 square miles, slightly larger than North America's Lake
Cassini reached Saturn in mid-2004 and at the end of that year
launched a probe named Huygens that parachuted to the surface of
Titan the following January.
The mission is a project of NASA, the European Space Agency and
the Italian Space Agency.