The liquid-hydrocarbon lakes and seas on Titan are incredibly calm, suggesting that future missions to the huge Saturn moon could enjoy a smooth ride to the surface, a new study reports.
The waves rippling the three largest lakes in Titan’s northern hemisphere are tiny, according to the study — just 0.25 inches (1 centimeter) high by about 8 inches (20 cm) long.
“There’s a lot of interest in one day sending probes to the lakes, and when that’s done, you want to have a safe landing, and you don’t want a lot of wind,” study lead author Cyril Grima, a research associate at the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics (UTIG), said in a statement. “Our study shows that because the waves aren’t very high, the winds are likely low.”
The 3,200-mile-wide (5,150 kilometers) Titan is the only celestial object besides Earth known to host stable bodies of liquid on its surface. But this liquid isn’t water. Titan’s weather system is hydrocarbon-based; ethane and methane rain from the skies, flowing in rivers and collecting in large lakes and seas.
Some scientists think these lakes and seas may be capable of supporting life, though any organisms swimming on Titan’s surface would doubtless be quite different than the water-dependent life-forms of Earth.
“The atmosphere of Titan is very complex, and it does synthesize complex organic molecules — the bricks of life,” Grima said. “It may act as a laboratory of sorts, where you can see how basic molecules can be transformed into more complex molecules that could eventually lead to life.”