for National Geographic News
A flyby of Saturn's largest moon, Titan, has finally revealed what scientists were searching for: lakes. Lots and lots of lakes.
This makes Titan the only body in our solar system, other than Earth, with lakes on its surface.
The discovery was made on July 22, when NASA's Cassini spacecraft, now orbiting Saturn, did its 16th close flyby of Titan.
The craft zoomed some 600 miles (965 kilometers) above a strip approximately 3,000 miles (5,000 kilometers) longnot to be confused with Titan's Earthlike "continent," announced last week.
Much of the terrain around the lakes looks like Earth's northern regions, says Ralph Lorenz of the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory in Tucson.
Lorenz compares the area to Finland and Sweden or parts of Canada and Minnesota.
"It is a real potpourri of what look like lakes," added Jonathan Lunine, another planetary scientist from the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory.
On radar the lakes show as dark, smooth blotches surrounded by hills.
"The contrast with the surrounding areas is very obvious," Lunine said. "It's not at all subtle."
"We don't know for sure that they're liquid," he added. "But that's the simplest interpretation."
On Titan bitterly cold temperatures would turn any watery lake to ice.
SOURCES AND RELATED WEB SITES