NASA Experiments Show Titan Lakes May Contain Nitrogen

By Cresswell McCoy | Mar 16, 2017 11:13 AM EDT

NASA's Cassini captured images of the northern lakes and seas of Saturn's moon Titan. The recent study shows that the hydrocarbon lakes and seas on Titan might rarely erupt with patches of bubbles. It turns out that significant amounts of nitrogen can be dissolved in extremely cold liquid methane.

This liquid methane rains from the skies and collects in the rivers, lake and seas. The nitrogen could rapidly separate out of solution due to changes in temperature, composition or air pressure. According to NASA, the Cassini spacecraft has figured out that the composition of Titan's lakes and seas vary from place to place.

Some of these pools are richer in ethane than methane, NASA's experiments shows that when rich methane liquids are mixed with rich ethane liquids the nitrogen is not able to stay in solution. This can also take place when methane seas warm up during the changing season on Titan.

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The release of nitrogen on these pools is known as "exsolution," while the Cassini spacecraft was exploring Titan it discovered something called as "Magic Islands." The spacecraft captured small areas on the seas that appeared and disappeared and in some cases it reappeared. Scientists have given various explanations for what could be creating these seemingly island type features on the seas.

The new study brings out details of the mechanism, which forms nitrogen bubbles on Titan's reservoirs. The movement of nitrogen on Titan is not in one particular direction. In fact, it first needs to get into the methane and ethane before it gets out fizzing from the lakes and seas. Researchers state that the effect shows as if Titan's lakes breathe nitrogen.

The Cassini spacecraft will close its final flyby of Titan on April 22, for one last time it will sweep its radar beam over Titan's northern seas. The 20 year mission of Cassini will conclude with the spacecraft diving into Saturn's atmosphere on September 15. 

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