Cassini’s latest image of the Saturn moon shows great methane lakes

The Cassini mission latest image of Saturn’s moon Titan was taken just four days before the spacecraft plummeted into the gas giant in September 2017.


Just four days before the Cassini spacecraft, the spectacular dive in the atmosphere of Saturn last year, cameras onboard the spacecraft captured the mission’s latest image of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan.

That image shows off what makes the moon so weird: It is covered with lakes filled with methane and ethane. “Titan is a fascinating place that really teases us with a few of her secrets,” Elizabeth Turtle, a planetary scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, said in a statement NASA released the image. [See Cassini’s Amazing Titan Photos of Saturn]

Titan has successfully clung to its secrets, even in the wake of the Cassini mission. That is particularly impressive, because the Cassini spacecraft carried a European Space Agency probe called Huygens, which landed on the odd moon.

One of those secrets is to be seen in this figure, shows only a few small clouds (pale areas in the vicinity of the center of the image), despite the fact that are snapped into place in a time where scientists had expected that substantial cloudiness on the moon.

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“In fact, atmospheric models predicted summer clouds above the northern latitudes of a few years ago,” Turtle said in the NASA statement. “So, the fact that they still have not appeared before the end of the mission, tells us something about Titan’s methane cycle and the weather.” [Landing on Titan: Pictures from the european Huygens Probe]

But the puzzle aside, the lack of clouds makes it easier to enjoy the lakes that dot Titan’s surface, which here appear as dark areas. The large network of dark spots on the left side of this image is a lake known as Kraken Mare, Punga Mare above and Ligeia Mare under the center of the image.

When Cassini captured this image, it was about 87,000 miles (140,000 kilometers above the surface of the moon. Although Cassini-the days around the moon over, the scientists hope that one day Titan with a special mission — NASA is considering a similar mission called Dragonfly, which would be able to hop around the surface of the moon.

Cassini mission ended on sept. 15, 2017, when the spacecraft plunged into Saturn in an intentional death dive. NASA won an Emmy award this month for the space agency’s coverage of the end of the Cassini mission to Saturn.

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