Waveless Lakes

  • Released Thursday, September 5th, 2013
  • Updated Wednesday, May 3rd, 2023 at 1:51PM

Lakes on another world are strange enough. But lakes without waves? Scientists studying Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, have never seen a wave in the hundreds of liquid pools discovered at its poles. Some of these pools are comparable in size to Earth’s biggest lakes. However, unlike our planet, Titan's lakes are not made of water. Data collected by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft show they're filled with a mix of methane, ethane and other complex hydrocarbons. Such molecules freeze at very low temperatures and can still exist as a liquid in Titan’s frigid minus 290°F weather. Cassini has surveyed Titan since it arrived at the Saturn system in 2004. Any wave, even millimeters high, would appear as a bright spot in its radar images. So why isn’t the surf up on these alien lakes? Researchers have put forth a new theory that may explain their calm surface. Watch the video to learn more.

Hydrocarbon rain that falls on Titan collects in lakes like Ligeia Mare, pictured, which is twice the size of Lake Superior.

Hydrocarbon rain that falls on Titan collects in lakes like Ligeia Mare, pictured, which is twice the size of Lake Superior.

The bright spot seen in this image is due to the reflection of sunlight off a lake at Titan's north pole.

The bright spot seen in this image is due to the reflection of sunlight off a lake at Titan's north pole.

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Credits

Please give credit for this item to:
Science@NASA and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
Cover image courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
Lakes image courtesy of NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute
Ligeia Mare image courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI/Cornell
Sun reflection image courtesy of NASA/JPL/University of Arizona/DLR