Titan Lakes Could Be The Perfect Landing Site For Space Missions, Study Finds

Posted: Jul 7 2017, 4:35am CDT | by , in News | Latest Science News

 
Titan Lakes could be the Perfect Landing Site for Space Missions, Study Finds
Credit: NASA

Saturn's moon Titan has calm lakes and they can provide smooth landing for future space probes

Saturn’s largest moon Titan has been a subject of intense scientific research in recent years. With the moon having conditions similar to our planet, including clouds, lakes and seas, researchers believe that Titan could be a promising place to search for life beyond Earth. And a new research suggests that it could be an ideal place to sent future space probes, too.

Researchers from University of Texas at Austin have found that lakes on Titan are incredibly low. There waves of the moon can reach only about 1 centimeter high, indicating that its lakes could serve as a smooth landing site for future space missions.

“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," said lead author Cyril Grima from University of Texas. "Our study shows that because the waves aren't very high, the winds are likely low.”

Saturn’s moon Titans harbors many lakes and seas similar to that of Earth. But instead of water, these bodies of liquid are filled with methane, collected from rain by hydrocarbon clouds. By analyzing the data collected by Cassini spacecraft earlier this summer, researchers attempted to determine the average wave height of Titan lakes and found that they are much lower than anticipated.

“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."

Researchers used a technique called radar statistical reconnaissance to determine the height of Titan’s waves. The technique is originally designed to measure snow density and its surface roughness in Antarctica and the Arctic but it has also been used to select landing sites for NASA's Mars lander InSight, which will be launched in early 2018. The same technique was applied on Titan’s radar data.

In the latest study, researchers focused on the three largest lakes in Titan's northern hemisphere: Kraken Mare, Ligeia Mare and Punga Mare. The largest of the three, Lake Mare is comparable to the size of Caspian Sea. Researchers found that waves across these lakes are not high, reaching only about 1 centimeter high and 20 centimeters long.

The findings also reflect on the wind speed on Titan’s surface. Waves are commonly caused by winds, which passes its energy to the water and cause it to move in circular motion. The size of a wave mainly depends on the speed of wind. The greater the wind speed, the higher the waves.

“From the results, it looks like we are right near the threshold for wave generation, where patches of the sea are smooth and patches are rough.” Co-author Alex Hayes from Cornell University said.

While there are no formal plans for a mission to Titan, the findings could help decide best potential locations for any future trip.

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