February 20, 2007
This radar image, obtained by Cassini's radar instrument during a near-polar flyby on Sept. 23, 2006, is the second scene that shows clear shorelines reminiscent of terrestrial lakes.
With Titan's colder temperatures and hydrocarbon-rich atmosphere, these lakes most likely contain a combination of methane and ethane (both hydrocarbons), not water. This high-latitude opportunity confirmed scientists' predictions that lakes would be present here, consistent with calculations that suggested that hydrocarbons would be stable as liquids at the colder, high latitudes. It also showed unusual complex terrain, the origin of which remains a mystery.
The image is illuminated by the radar from the top, and shows features as small as about 300 meters (980 feet). Starting at the left (63 degrees north latitude by 255 degrees west longitude), where the terrain appears bland and dark, the swath heads northeast into a more rugged, mottled terrain, probably containing dried lakes and canyons formed by the presence of liquid hydrocarbons.
The first lake, an irregular, almost-triangular shape about 16 kilometers (10 miles) across at the widest point, can be seen near the bottom of the image; it appears to be fed by two channels from the south. Several more lakes can be seen about one-third of the way into the swath, near the closest approach to the pole, (north of 75 degrees north latitude), including Titan's "kissing lakes," each 20 to 25 kilometers (12 to 16 miles) across. Two other lakes feature narrow or angular bays, including a broad peninsula that on Earth would be evidence that the surrounding terrain is higher and confines the liquid. Continuing on, about three-quarters of the way through the swath, the terrain becomes brighter and more rugged, again indicating possible dried lakes and canyon-like structures. A long 100-kilometer (60-mile) series of grooves appears, likely carved by liquids. Next is an area of bright terrain with an unusual directional texture, indicating possible dunes, but brighter and perhaps different in nature than those seen elsewhere. Finally, towards the end of the swath, where the image quality is poorest, the terrain becomes mottled and difficult to interpret.
The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. The Cassini orbiter was designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The radar instrument was built by JPL and the Italian Space Agency, working with team members from the United States and several European countries.
For more information about the Cassini-Huygens mission visit http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/home/index.cfm.