Disappearing lakes on Titan - seasonal cycles

In summary: It would be interesting to see if any organics or macroscopic features are preserved in any of the recently detected lakes.In summary, Titan has three lakes that disappear in the summer, which scientists are trying to figure out why. It is possible that there is tectonic activity on Titan, and that it may play a role in the disappearance of the lakes.
  • #1
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Earth and Titan are the only objects in the Solar System with stable liquids on its surface. Earth has water oceans, lakes, rivers and rain, Titan has methane/ethane oceans, lakes, rivers and rain. Earth has seasons, and so does Titan. They are just much longer as Saturn's orbital period is 29.5 years.

Studying data from the Cassini mission scientists have found three lakes that were present in winter but disappeared in summer, the first time such a large change has been found. It is expected that evaporation is too slow for the process - the liquid must have gone elsewhere. Studying changes like this will tell us more about the only other system of surface liquids we know.

Press release: Disappearing Lakes Offer Clues to Titan’s Seasonal Cycles

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Dragonfly is a proposed helicopter to explore Titan. The low gravity, slow wind and dense atmosphere make flight very easy (humans could fly with muscle power), the mission could explore many different places on the surface. Even at its slow speed of 10 m/s it can fly 60 km in two hours - farther than any rover ever made it on Moon or Mars (although it might make shorter flights for safety reasons). And it can do that every Titan day, or twice per month! It could launch 2024-2025. More details
 
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  • #2
I wonder... could this be a result of some sort of tectonic activity? Considering the now-emptied lakes are all within the same general area, that is.

https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/cassini/multimedia/pia10654.html
This older NASA article confirms there is tectonic activity on Titan, albeit slightly different from that of Earth.

Thoughts?
 
  • #3
I'm not an expert in this field, but my understanding of the situation is that the hydrology on Titan is complicated by the fact that both ethane and methane can exist in all three states under the conditions prevailing there, and hence both participate in the hydrologic cycle on Titan. This is in contrast to the hydrology on the present-day Earth, where only water exhibits this behaviour. It's not well understood whether, or to what extent, seasonal variations in temperature or atmospheric pressure on Titan can alter the relative amounts of ethane and methane vapours in the atmosphere.

Ethane and methane have significantly different properties: liquid ethane (##C_2H_6##), with a higher molecular mass than methane (##CH_4##), is less volatile than liquid methane, and is hence less likely to evaporate from an ethane/methane mixture present in a body of liquid on the surface of Titan. So it's possible that lakes and ponds viewed in the northern summer on Titan have different amounts of ethane/methane compared to cooler parts of the seasonal cycle.

Some studies (https://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/hal-01718104 , https://www.hou.usra.edu/meetings/lpsc2014/pdf/2371.pdf) suggest that karst (dissolution) geological forms exist on Titan, and that ponds and lakes formed in such areas can be subject to slow drainage by solution/percolation into the surrounding (mainly water-ice) rocks. Dissolution rates of substrate may differ between ethane and methane.

So it would seem that at least two mechanisms for shrinkage of ethane/methane lakes and ponds could be present on Titan.
 
  • #4
Comeback City said:
Considering the now-emptied lakes are all within the same general area, that is.
That is probably just a selection effect - we don't have the same image quality for the whole planet.
 
  • #5
Another word on possible karst/dissolution geology on Titan: liquid methane will not dissolve water ice, but it will dissolve organics like solid acetylene which may be bound into the water ice.
 

Related to Disappearing lakes on Titan - seasonal cycles

1. What causes the lakes on Titan to disappear?

The lakes on Titan disappear due to seasonal cycles. Titan has a similar cycle of seasons as Earth, but it lasts for about 7.5 years. During the winter season, temperatures drop and the lakes freeze, causing them to disappear from view.

2. How do scientists know that the lakes on Titan are disappearing?

Scientists have been studying images and data from the Cassini spacecraft, which has been orbiting Saturn and its moons since 2004. The spacecraft has captured images of the lakes on Titan and has shown that they have been disappearing over time, providing evidence of seasonal cycles.

3. Are the lakes on Titan completely disappearing or just shrinking?

The lakes on Titan are not completely disappearing, but rather shrinking in size. The lakes are made up of liquid hydrocarbons, mainly methane and ethane, and as the temperatures drop during the winter season, these liquids freeze and shrink in volume.

4. How long does it take for the lakes on Titan to disappear?

The lakes on Titan disappear over the course of several years, as the seasonal cycle on Titan lasts for about 7.5 years. The lakes start to shrink during the winter season and then gradually refill during the summer season when temperatures rise again.

5. Is the disappearance of lakes on Titan a unique phenomenon?

No, the disappearance of lakes due to seasonal cycles is not a unique phenomenon. On Earth, we see similar cycles with bodies of water freezing and thawing during winter and summer seasons. However, the composition of the lakes on Titan, made up of liquid hydrocarbons, is what makes this phenomenon unique and interesting to study.

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