Scientists examining recent images of the surface of Titan have discovered a feature that resembles a lake. The feature is near persistent methane clouds and the smoothness of its boundaries suggests shorelines, but it could instead be a dry lake bed, a depression filled with solid hydrocarbons “snowing” out of the atmosphere, or a tectonic-related landform. Similar dark features in the region suggest common processes at work. Future observations by the Cassini space probe will attempt to detect reflections on the surfaces of these features that could determine whether or not they contain liquid.
The region in which the landform was discovered is near Titan’s southern pole (the red cross in the lower center of the image.) The bright white objects in the lower right quadrant of the image are methane clouds that persist through southern summer. NASA also released a time-lapse movie of the region showing movement of these clouds.
Images returned by the Cassini space probe have provided tantalizing evidence for active processes currently at work on the surface of Titan, making it the most Earth-like body in the solar system. Image resolution is hampered by Titan’s thick nitrogen-methane atmosphere, however, and scientists often combine several images of the same region to tease out greater detail. This adds lengthy procedures to an already lengthy process that turns raw images returned by Cassini into image products ready for scientific analysis.