Flash of sunlight confirms liquid in northern lake district of Saturn's moon Titan

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Washington, December 18 (ANI): NASA's Cassini spacecraft has captured the first flash of sunlight reflected off a lake on Saturn's moon Titan, confirming the presence of liquid on the northern part of the moon dotted with many large, lake-shaped basins.

Cassini scientists had been looking for the glint, also known as a specular reflection, since the spacecraft began orbiting Saturn in 2004.

But, Saturn's northern hemisphere, which has more lakes than the southern hemisphere, has been veiled in winter darkness.

The Sun only began to directly illuminate the northern lakes recently as it approached the equinox of August 2008, the start of spring in the northern hemisphere.

Titan's hazy atmosphere also blocked out reflections of sunlight in most wavelengths.

In 2008, Cassini scientists using infrared data confirmed the presence of liquid in Ontario Lacus, the largest lake in Titan's southern hemisphere.

But, they were still looking for the smoking gun to confirm liquid in the northern hemisphere, where lakes are also larger.

Katrin Stephan, of the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in Berlin, an associate member of the Cassini visual and infrared mapping spectrometer team, was processing the initial image captured by Cassini's visual and infrared mapping spectrometer, and was the first to see the glint on July 10th this year.

"I was instantly excited because the glint reminded me of an image of our own planet taken from orbit around Earth, showing a reflection of sunlight on an ocean," Stephan said.

"But we also had to do more work to make sure the glint we were seeing wasn't lightning or an erupting volcano," he added.

Team members at the University of Arizona, Tucson, processed the image further, and scientists were able to compare the new image to radar and near-infrared-light images acquired from 2006 to 2008.

They were able to correlate the reflection to the southern shoreline of a lake called Kraken Mare.

The sprawling Kraken Mare covers about 400,000 square kilometers (150,000 square miles), an area larger than the Caspian Sea, the largest lake on Earth.

It is located around 71 degrees north latitude and 337 degrees west latitude.

The finding shows that the shoreline of Kraken Mare has been stable over the last three years and that Titan has an ongoing hydrological cycle that brings liquids to the surface, according toRalf Jaumann, a visual and infrared mapping spectrometer team member who leads the scientists at the DLR who work on Cassini. (ANI)

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