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Cassini's new view of land of lakes and seas
Date:10/11/2007

The best views of the hydrocarbon lakes and seas on Saturn's moon Titan taken by the Cassini spacecraft are being released today.

A new radar image comprised from seven Titan fly-bys over the last year and a half shows a north pole pitted with giant lakes and seas, at least one of them larger than Lake Superior in the USA, the largest freshwater lake on Earth. Approximately 60% of Titan's north polar region, above 60 north, has been mapped by Cassini's radar instrument. About 14% of the mapped region is covered by what scientists interpret as liquid hydrocarbon lakes.

"This is our version of mapping Alaska, the northern parts of Canada, Greenland, Scandinavia and Northern Russia," said Rosaly Lopes, Cassini radar scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, USA. "It is like mapping these regions of Earth for the first time."

Lakes and seas are very common at the high northern latitudes of Titan, which is in winter now. Scientists say as it rains methane and ethane there, these liquids are collected on the surface, filling the lakes and seas. Those lakes and seas then carve meandering rivers and channels on the moon's surface. Now Cassini is moving into unknown territory, down to the south pole of Titan.

"We want to see if there are more lakes present there. Titan is indeed the land of lakes and seas, but we want to know if this is true now for the south pole as well," said Lopes. "We know there is at least one large lake near the south pole, but it will be interesting to see if there's a big difference between the north and south polar regions."

It is summer at Titan's south pole but winter should roll over that region in 2017. A season on Titan lasts nearly 7.5 years, one quarter of a Saturn year, which is 29.5 years long. Monitoring seasonal change helps scientists understand the processes at work there.

Scientists are making progress in understanding how the lakes may have formed. On Earth, lakes fill low spots
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Contact: Jean-Pierre Lebreton
jean-pierre.lebreton@esa.int
31-715-653-600
European Space Agency
Source:Eurekalert

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