of unseen spectacular seas
on Saturn’s largest satellite.
Liquid lakes that once gathered
around its equatorial belt
rivers may have drained to the poles.
And when it rains, it storms,
but not the balmy monsoon showers
that nourish the lush life of ours.
These specular reflections hide
under dense hydrocarbon clouds
beguiling a treacherous mission.
Future is a two-sided mirage on Titan’s floor.
About this poem: Saturn's moon Titan is home to seas and lakes filled with liquid hydrocarbons. Apart from Earth, Titan is the only body in the solar system known to possess surface lakes and seas, which have been observed by the Cassini spacecraft. But at Titan's frigid surface temperatures, roughly -292F (-180 degrees Celsius), liquid methane and ethane, rather than water, dominate Titan's hydrocarbon equivalent of Earth’s water. Since 2000, astronomers using radio telescopes on Earth have detected particularly bright radio signals coming from Titan’s equator. Those signals, called specular reflections, occur when electromagnetic waves bounce off of a flat surface a bit like light bounces off a mirror. The most natural explanation for the reflections was that Titan had large bodies of liquid in its equatorial tropics. Previously, lakes have been thought to be mainly concentrated near Titan’s poles, not the tropics. The regions where the specular reflections show up are bafflingly dry. It is currently unclear what is responsible for these dry lake beds near the equator. And, if the reflections indeed come from lost lakes, where did the liquid go? One possibility is that it moved from the equator to the poles as part of a Titan-wide methane cycle. Another is that the liquid evaporated and was destroyed by sunlight striking Titan’s atmosphere.
Image credit: A composite image of Saturn's moon Titan taken by the Cassini spacecraft. Hard lines edited by artist Pablo C. Budassi.
Source: Wikimedia Commons