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In Brief

Cassini Finds Titan Lake Is Like Namibia Mudflat

19 April 2012

Satellite views of lakes on Titan and on Earth (NASA/JPL-Caltech/USGS)

A new study analyzing data from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft suggests that a lake known as Ontario Lacus on Saturn’s moon Titan behaves most similarly to what we call a salt pan on Earth.

A new study analyzing data from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft suggests that a lake known as Ontario Lacus on Saturn’s moon Titan behaves most similarly to what we call a salt pan on Earth.

A group led by Thomas Cornet of the Université de Nantes, France, a Cassini associate, found evidence for long-standing channels etched into the lake bed within the southern boundary of the depression, NASA said in a press release. This suggests that Ontario Lacus, previously thought to be completely filled with liquid hydrocarbons, could actually be a depression that drains and refills from below, exposing liquid areas ringed by materials like saturated sand or mudflats.

These characteristics make Ontario Lacus very similar to the Etosha salt pan on Earth, which is a lake bed that fills with a shallow layer of water from groundwater levels that rise during the rainy season. This layer then evaporates and leaves sediments like tide marks showing the previous extent of the water. In the image above, Ontario Lacus is shown on the left and the Etosha salt pan in Namibia is on the right.

For more on Ontario Lacus and the Cassini-Huygens mission, see the NASA press release.