Jul 1, 2019
Titan is not wet.
On October 15, 1997 NASA launched the six ton Cassini-Huygens spacecraft, the largest space mission ever deployed at the time. Its name was changed twice during the mission: the Cassini Equinox Mission was a two-year extension that began on July 1, 2008, following the completion of its Prime Mission from July 1, 2004 to June 30, 2008. It was then changed to the Cassini-Solstice Mission, named for the Summer solstice on Saturn that took place in May 2017. Cassini burned up in Saturn’s atmosphere on Friday, September 16, 2017.
Cassini’s mission uncovered many problems. Methane gas escapes from Titan’s atmosphere, where sunlight changes it back into carbon and hydrogen. Titan is supposed to be billions of years old, so how has its methane atmosphere survived—it should have evaporated eons ago. Astrophysicists resolve that issue by imagining large lakes of liquid methane on the surface.
That idea suffered a blow when the Huygens lander touched down on a rocky plain. No methane “rain” was detected and no methane puddles were seen. Instead, a vast, dry expanse covered with “sand dunes” and “dry river channels” was seen.
Huygens used a probe attached to its bottom with a pressure sensor programmed with a variety of materials. The mission team reported that the lander felt “something moist”, but the data also indicated dry sand. Methane drifted around the probe, but it quickly dissipated—presumably because of the lander’s heat.
According to a recent press release, planetary scientists analyzing Cassini’s data archive, found more anomalies. Titan, they speculate, has a weather cycle like Earth, except it involves methane instead of water. Evaporation, clouds, rain, rivers, lakes and seas are said to exist on Titan, despite its temperature of minus 220 Celsius. How those catchments were formed is a puzzle, since they do not fit well with computer models.
Images transmitted from the Titan’s surface revealed a rocky landscape with the consistency of sand. A field of small pebbles extended to the horizon. Spectrographic analysis established that the “rocks” are made of water ice. It is easy to understand how ice can appear to be like rock when it is at a temperature of minus 220 Celsius. Huygens did not find liquids of any kind.
The press announcement stated that they saw “small lakes” from orbit that “evaporated” over time. However, what they did not see was those lakes re-filling during Cassini’s mission
The Cassini-Equinox orbiter detected an infrared reflection from an area known as Kraken Mare (“Monster Ocean”) that covers more than 400,000 square kilometers in Titan’s north polar region. Is Kraken Mare really a lake larger than Earth’s Lake Superior?
As noted in a previous Picture of the Day, the lakes on Titan are similar to the “maria” of our own Moon. Every brachiated channel on Titan is dry; they all have dark, flat floors, with no evidence of flowing liquids. Coupled with the observation that Titan’s Kraken Mare resembles Mare Serenitatis more than it does Lake Superior, the same rilles are present on Titan as on the Moon.
Electric Universe advocate Wal Thornhill observed that images from Cassini are “…typical of arc machining of the surface. I would compare them directly to the scalloped scarring on Jupiter’s moon Io and the flat, melted floor depressions that result. Such floors would be expected to give a dark radar return.”
The fact that the “lakes” are also close by the vast dune fields in the polar regions suggests an electrical origin sometime in the past. It is in the southern and northern latitudes of Titan that they are found. Since electrical activity carved the surface of other rocky bodies, why would it come as a surprise to find that it has also been at work on Titan? It is a distinct probability that the infrared light seen by Cassini was a reflection from hardened glass-like surfaces.