Image of the Day: A New Look at Kepler's Supernova of 1604
Watch Live: A "Potentially Hazardous" Near-Earth Asteroid to Fly By Tonight

The Lakes of Titan - Cassini Mission Detects "Molecules Like Amino Acids, the Building Blocks of Life"




NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has imaged methane lakes in the “tropics” of Saturn’s moon Titan. One of the lakes appears to be about half the size of Utah’s Great Salt Lake, with a depth of at least 3 feet (1 meter),an unexpected result, because models had assumed the long-standing bodies of liquid would only exist at the poles.

"A likely supplier is an underground aquifer," said Caitlin Griffith, the paper’s lead author and a Cassini team associate at the University of Arizona, Tucson. “In essence, Titan may have oases.” 
“An aquifer could explain one of the puzzling questions about the existence of methane, which is continually depleted,” Griffith added. “Methane is a progenitor of Titan’s organic chemistry, which likely produces interesting molecules like amino acids, the building blocks of life.”

Understanding how lakes or wetlands form on Titan helps scientists learn about the moon’s weather. Like Earth’s hydrological cycle, Titan has a “methane” cycle, with methane rather than water circulating. In Titan’s atmosphere, ultraviolet light breaks apart methane, initiating a chain of complicated organic chemical reactions. But existing models haven’t been able to account for the abundant supply of methane.

Global circulation models of Titan have theorized that liquid methane in the moon’s equatorial region evaporates and is carried by wind to the north and south poles, where cooler temperatures cause methane to condense. When it falls to the surface, it forms the polar lakes. On Earth, water is similarly transported by the circulation, yet the oceans also transport water, thereby countering the atmospheric effects.

Some regions could be shallow, ankle-deep puddles. Cassini’s radar mapper has seen lakes in the polar region, but hasn’t detected any lakes at low latitudes.



Ref.: Caitlin A. Griffith et al., Possible tropical lakes on Titan from observations of dark terrain, Nature, 2012, DOI: 10.1038/nature11165

The Daily Galaxy via NASA/JPL, Nature and


The Cassini programme is absolutely outstanding. Brilliant work guys.

Très bon travail. Je suis tombé sur votre blog et je voulais dire que j'ai vraiment apprécié les membres de votre blog.

Moi aussi!

Bad title! The title misleads one into believing that they've actually detected amino acids or similar compounds - not at all. There may be some, but no one knows yet:
“....Methane is a progenitor of Titan’s organic chemistry, which likely produces interesting molecules like amino acids, the building blocks of life....”
Likely, not actually! Darn, had me really excited for a minute....

Methane. Methane. Methane everywhere and not a drop to drink. It is interesting that liquid methane exist where water does not, and the dynamics of liquid methane is the same as liquid water. Asking the question if liquid methane could produce chemical compounds that could produce amino acids is the first step of understanding if life could exist outside our planet. If there are extreme-ophiles on Earth could there be extreme-ophiles on other worlds, and could the medium of their lives be liquid methane? What would life based on liquid methane look like and how would they react to water based organisms?

Ah, shouldn't that be, instead of "aquifer," I don't know, a "methifer" or something? What's the Latin word for "methane?"

I would also guess that any chemical containing SNH that can be liquid/frozen (golilocks zone) can contain life as well as a base. As longa as the other materials are within reach for the creature to manufacture what it needs from it. Life is much more diverse than we think. There is already sulfur based life possibilies & nitrogen air is ok for the most part. Just put them all in different orders on another planet & let the "mechanisms" work in different orders to make the chemical process get the same results. I don't care what "science" says. The univserse is so large & so many %'s of things happening out there mean it's happening somewhere!

Surely methane on Titan and on Earth are abiotic as oil and natural gas too!

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)