Titan

Yes, one of my favorite places in the system surrounding the star called “the Sun”.

Titan is a large moon orbiting Saturn. It is remarkable in that it has lakes consisting of methane and ethane, which are liquid at Titan’s temperature.

Recently, waves have been observed in the surface of one of its lakes. 1

What’s so remarkable about that? Follow me.

There IS wind on Titan. The mostly nitrogen atmosphere blows enough to visibly sculpt dunes in the surface of Titan. Yet the lakes of Titan have – until now – not shown evidence of waves. 2

Methane, in its liquid state, has very low viscosity. Thus it should be easy for it to form waves. 3

Here we go:
Researchers had previously toyed with several explanations, including that the lakes may be frozen or covered with a tar-like substance that damps wave motion. 4

A TAR-LIKE substance? Think about that for a minute. If we know the physical characteristic of the liquid in this lake, and we have a ballpark idea of what kind of winds are blowing, then we should be able to predict what kind of waves we should see.

It appears that the waves are smaller and less frequent than we have predicted.

Is there something floating on the surface of this lake. Pond scum? LIFE? How would it survive there?

Well, we do have forms of life on Earth that are methanogens, meaning that they create methane in the way that we create carbon dioxide when we breathe. They are archaea, simply the most primitive and ancient forms of life on our planet. These MIGHT be the source of all this methane.

There are also methanotrophs, primitive lifeforms that consume methane.

Since Titan’s methane inevitably evaporates into space, something on the surface must be producing it. And something seems to be consuming atmospheric hydrogen at the surface.

I think it’s time to get ourselves back to Titan. There are just too many mysteries and opportunities for astounding discoveries on this remote rock.

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