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NASA scientists excited by 'magic island' on a hydrocarbon lake on Titan

A lake on Titan
A lake on Titan
NASA (public domain)

According to a Sunday story in Live Science, scientists are giddy at some new findings on Titan, a moon of Saturn, thanks to the Cassini space probe currently orbiting the sixth planet out from the sun. Latest imagery has spotted a number of bright spots on Ligeia Mare, the hydrocarbon lake in the north polar region of Titan. One such spot has been dubbed the “magic island.”

Scientists are speculating what those bright spots might be. Some suggest that they are ice bergs made of frozen methane. Others suggest that they are waves or bubbles that have formed on the surface of Ligeia Mare as more sunlight falls upon it, warming up the hydrocarbon lake. The images are seen as evidence that Titan’s bodies of liquid methane and ethane react similarly to Earth’s water lakes when summer rolls around. Warmer sunlight may cause bubbles or methane ice to appear. Winds that pick up during Titan’s summer may cause waves to appear,

Titan, the largest moon of Saturn, is the only other celestial body besides Earth that has lakes and rivers. However because it is so cold on Titan, those bodies of water are made up of liquid methane and ethane. They behave much like water on Earth, however, something that has provided endless fascination of scientists.

The fact that there are bodies of liquid on Titan has caused some outside the box thinking at NASA and other space agencies for an eventual landing on the moon of Saturn. Some suggest that instead of or along with landing something on Titan’s land masses, why not land something on one of the lakes, such as Ligeia Mare? Ideas range from a small boat with instruments to a robotic submarine. Such ideas are somewhat distant in the future, awaiting larger budgets for the space agency.