Orbiter spots an alien Nile on Titan By Alan Boyle - MSNBC
This radar image from NASA's Cassini spacecraft, acquired on Sept. 26, shows a vast river system on Saturn's moon Titan.
NASA's Cassini orbiter has spotted a river system on the Saturnian moon Titan that's reminiscent of the River Nile — except that this river is presumably filled with liquid ethane and methane instead of water.
The Titanic Nile shows up on a grainy, black-and-white picture from Cassini's radar imager, which can look through Titan's thick, smoggy atmosphere to map the surface features beneath.
The picture was taken on Sept. 26 and released today by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the European Space Agency. It shows a branching river valley, running more than 200 miles (320 kilometers) from its headwaters to Titan's Kraken Mare, a hydrocarbon sea that's somewhere between the Caspian Sea and the Mediterranean in size.
Just as Earth has a water-based hydrological cycle, Titan has a weather cycle that moves ethane and methane around its surface and through the atmosphere. That's due to Titan's surface temperature (averaging minus-290 degrees Fahrenheit, or -179 degrees Celsius) and atmospheric pressure (one and a half times that of Earth's atmosphere).
"Titan is the only place we've found besides Earth that has a liquid in continuous movement on its surface," Steve Wall, the radar deputy team lead, said in JPL's news release. "This picture gives us a snapshot of a world in motion. Rain falls, and rivers move that rain to lakes and seas, where evaporation starts the cycle all over again. On Earth, the liquid is water; on Titan, it's methane; but on both it affects most everything that happens."