Waves On Saturn's Moon Titan Are Just One Centimeter High

The waves would probably be lower than this artist's impression. NASA/Gregor Kervina

Saturn’s moon Titan is the only place other than Earth with known bodies of liquid on its surface. A new study paints a startling different view of those lakes and seas to our world, with tiny waves rippling across them.

Published in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters, researchers led by the University of Texas found that waves on Titan would reach a height of only about 1 centimeter (0.4 inches). They would also extend for little more than 20 centimeters (7.9 inches).

The discovery was made using radar data from the Cassini spacecraft. The study’s lead author, Cyril Grima, developed a technique that can measure “surface roughness” in really, really fine detail. Fine enough to measure the waves as being no more than 1.5 to 2.5 centimeters (0.6 to 1 inch) in height. Grima told IFLScience the wind speeds were estimated at 0.22 meters (0.72 feet) per second at 10 meters (33 feet) above the surface.

This research looked at three lakes in Titan’s northern hemisphere: Kraken Mare (Titan’s largest lake), Ligeia Mare, and Punga Mare. The final flyby of Titan by Cassini in April studied this region, and data from this may soon tell us how deep these lakes are.

The implication of this is that the wind speeds on Titan likely aren’t that high. This means that if we ever want to land a probe in one of the seas – which has been discussed – then wind might not be too much of a problem. As Titan’s winds are currently low and the moon is currently in its “summer”, this also casts doubt on the idea that summer is the windiest season on Titan.

"There's a lot of interest in one day sending probes to the lakes, and when that's done, you want to have a safe landing, and you don't want a lot of wind," Grima said in a statement. "Our study shows that because the waves aren't very high, the winds are likely low."

A map of the three lakes in Titan's northern hemisphere. Cyril Grima/The University of Texas at Austin
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