Saturn's Moon Titan Is Looking Even More Earth-Like

Image: Cassini’s latest view of Titan’s seas, NASA/JPL/Univ. Arizona/Univ. Idaho
Image: Cassini’s latest view of Titan’s seas, NASA/JPL/Univ. Arizona/Univ. Idaho

The Cassini mission is sending us better and better data and images of just what’s happening on the surface of Saturn’s moon Titan. And it’s beginning to look awfully familiar...


The latest data NASA researchers have been pouring over shows new details about the strange lakes and seas that trickle across Saturn’s frigid moon, Titan. It also draws comparisons between the only other interstellar body found to have similarly liquid lakes and seas on its surface—our very own Earth. Unlike our watery planet, though, Titan’s lakes and seas are made up of pure liquid methane.

But how do the seas stay filled up with all that methane? One potential new explanation takes the liquid cycle we see here on Earth, tweaks it slightly to account for Titan’s own conditions, and comes up with something pretty familiar: Rain.

Of course, instead of being made up of liquid water, that rain is also made up of pure liquid methane. Still, it is rain which, as it falls, fills up the lakes. These lakes then create Titan’s shorelines, which look very like our own as you can see in this flyover visualization:

Researchers even suspect the weather along those Titan shorelines behaves a lot like the shores along our own seas, with temperatures along them influenced by the temperature in the lake.

But although the liquid cycle coupled with Titan’s nitrogen-heavy atmosphere may look a lot like Earth, there’s plenty of differences to separate them. For instance: Titan’s almost total lack of oxygen, the freezing temperatures, and the pesky fact that its liquid methane filling up those seas instead of water. Still, it’s quite a familiar sight to see in some incredibly strange terrain.



The main reason that we consider water to be necessary for life is that it holds all the reactants of life in solution, and thus allows them to easily react with each other.

Is it conceivable that a different liquid solvent, such as Titan’s methane, could do the job as well?