ESA's 'shipping forecast' - from Titan!

April 02, 2004

There is a growing body of evidence that at least part of Titan's surface is covered with liquid methane and a related chemical, ethane. On Earth, methane is a gas but at the colder temperatures of Titan, around -180 °C, it could exist as a liquid or be frozen solid into ice. If it is a liquid, it could exist as lakes in craters or even as vast oceans. Recent radar observations suggest that up to seventy-five percent of the surface may be covered in liquid. In that case, it is highly likely that after its descent through Titan's atmosphere, the Huygens probe will not so much land as 'splashdown'.

To understand what to expect if this happens, the Principal Investigator of the Huygens Surface Science Package, John Zarnecki of the UK's Open University, has teamed up with Nadeem Ghafoor, Surrey Satellite Technology, and colleagues from the Southampton Oceanography Centre.

Together, the team used a computer model to predict the behaviour of the ocean on Titan. They looked at the waves they might encounter. On Earth, wind drives the waves. By placing Titan's characteristics into their computer program, the team discovered that Titan's waves will be slow-motion giants, reaching some seven times the height of a typical wave on Earth. Their height is mostly generated because Titan's gravitational strength is only one seventh that of Earth.

If Huygens does land on an ocean, the Surface Science Package will attempt to measure its composition, and depth using sonar. It will also record the frequency and height of any waves that pass.

Extreme sports fans might find surfing on these waves a wild ride, according to Nadeem Ghafoor, because the waves would look seven times bigger but move three times more slowly than those on Earth.

Of course, the sea would be 180 degrees below zero and it would not smell very good either. The surroundings would be a murky orange-brown because of the permanently overcast conditions and there might be the occasional iceberg to dodge near the shore!

In short, Titan could be like nothing like we have seen before and Cassini/Huygens is due to reveal all on 14 January 2005.

European Space Agency

Related Methane Articles from Brightsurf:

When methane-eating microbes eat ammonia instead
As a side effect of their metabolism, microorganisms living on methane can also convert ammonia.

Making more of methane
Looking closely at the chemical process that transforms methane into useful products could help unveil more efficient ways to use natural gas.

Methane: emissions increase and it's not a good news
It is the second greenhouse gas with even a global warming potential larger than CO2.

Measuring methane from space
A group of researchers from Alaska and Germany is reporting for the first time on remote sensing methods that can observe thousands of lakes and thus allow more precise estimates of methane emissions.

New 3D view of methane tracks sources
NASA's new 3-dimensional portrait of methane concentrations shows the world's second largest contributor to greenhouse warming.

Show me the methane
Though not as prevalent in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas.

Containing methane and its contribution to global warming
Methane is a gas that deserves more attention in the climate debate as it contributes to almost half of human-made global warming in the short-term.

Microorganisms reduce methane release from the ocean
Bacteria in the Pacific Ocean remove large amounts of the greenhouse gas methane.

Origin of massive methane reservoir identified
New research provides evidence of the formation and abundance of abiotic methane -- methane formed by chemical reactions that don't involve organic matter -- on Earth and shows how the gases could have a similar origin on other planets and moons, even those no longer home to liquid water.

Unexpected culprit -- wetlands as source of methane
Knowing how emissions are created can help reduce them.

Read More: Methane News and Methane Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to