CICLOPS: Cassini Imaging Central Laboratory for OPerationS
Exploring the Wetlands of Titan

Exploring the Wetlands of Titan
PIA 08365

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Exploring the Wetlands of Titan
PIA 08365

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  Cassini peers through the murky orange haze of Titan to spy what are believed to be bodies of liquid hydrocarbons, two of them as large as seas on Earth, near the moon's north pole.

This movie blends a near natural color view and an infrared glimpse of Titan's surface obtained by the visual cameras, followed by a transition to imagery collected by the Radar instrument aboard Cassini, for a dramatic reveal of the north pole of Saturn's largest moon.

As the movie zooms in on the north pole, the most readily visible bodies are outlined in blue. The largest of these, on the left, is as large in size as the Caspian Sea on Earth; the next largest, on the right, is about the size of Lake Superior. When compared to the surface area of Titan however (which is 6 times smaller than the Earth's), these bodies are equivalent in size to the Bay of Bengal and Timor Sea, respectively. Geographically speaking, they are more like the mid-size seas of Earth.

The movie continues with a gradual transition to a polar map of the Radar imagery taken so far by Cassini of the north polar region. It is clear that one of the Radar swaths has intersected a small upper bay of the largest sea, and has almost entirely imaged the second one.

The extreme darkness of these regions in the Radar data argues strongly for the presence of liquid hydrocarbons, such as methane and ethane, which remain liquid at Titan's frigid temperature of -180 degrees Celsius (-288 Fahrenheit) (see PIA09182).

The movie continues with a pan across the pole and the radar imagery that has uncovered a multitude of much smaller lakes.

Features of strikingly similar morphology to these dark northern seas and smaller lakes were first discovered in ISS images in June 2005 at Titan's south pole (see PIA06240) The lake-like shoreline of the largest of these called Ontario Lacus, its absolute size (about the size of Earth's Lake Ontario), and its proximity to the south pole where the largest field of clouds yet seen on Titan had been observed, earned it the reputation as the best candidate for a body of liquid hydrocarbons on Titan up until that point, though the case for liquids was weak. (When adjusted for the size of Titan, Ontario Lacus is roughly equivalent in size to Lake Superior). Now, by inference, scientists are more confident that it, and the smaller features that dot the south pole, too are likely open bodies of liquid, and in aggregate make up a southern wetlands on Titan, similar to the one observed in the north polar movie.

[Sizes and comparisons corrected in February 2022]

The images used to make this movie were taken with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on Feb. 25, 2007 at a distance of approximately 1.3 million kilometers (800,000 miles) from Titan. The infrared images were taken with a special filter centered at 938 nanometers that provides the cameras' best view of Titan's surface features. This view was then composited with images taken at 619, 568 and 440 nanometers to create a near natural color appearance. The Radar data was acquired in synthetic aperture radar (SAR) mode.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Cassini-Huygens mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. The imaging team consists of scientists from the US, England, France, and Germany. The imaging operations center and team lead (Dr. C. Porco) are based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo.

For more information about the Cassini-Huygens mission, visit and the Cassini imaging team home page,

Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute
Released: April 2, 2009 (PIA 08365)
Image/Caption Information

Alliance Member Comments
TitanExplorer (Oct 17, 2010 at 3:35 PM):
I am not sure if the Huygiens probe has disappeared or vanished. I watch frequently news about Titan.
I believe that it may change entirely the history of future Titan explorations if we find out by sending a relatively medium - sized or small submarine into one of Titanīs oceans.
By the start of this year I began to visualize the possibility that a mission could be sent to Titan which could involve several sattellites , including one which can carry a submarine.
Rich777 (Oct 10, 2007 at 2:07 PM):
data garbage maybe... stuff on the lens. =/

Love the zoom in on the landscape. Excellent imagery taken by the best satellite out there. =)

Has the huygens probe disappeared completely within the Titan terrain? Or can it still be seen from above? That would be awesome to image it sitting on the surface, drinking a cool glass of liquid methane. =b
nvoelz (Jul 21, 2007 at 2:31 PM):
I noticed as it zooms in, before it transitions into the lined areas, there are specs of white and black in the haze. This article didn't mention much about it, which i suppose would be distracting to the subject at hand, but at first I thought they were stars, but then I thought, "no I'm looking at the surface." Anybody know what they are? Clouds? Ice shining? How 'bout the black spots, they look like they're in the atmosphere.
Moonsister (Mar 23, 2007 at 4:13 PM):
While this movie is not as stunning visually as some Saturn movies, it is intriguing in what has been found, seas the size of our own Great Lakes made of methane or ethane and who knows what else might be lurking...Great stuff!
baselle (Mar 22, 2007 at 9:28 PM):
Just so cool. ...We are witnessing a new field of study - hydrocarbon limnologist.