Research

Titan’s Bubbly Islands

Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, is a fascinating world with remarkable similarities to our own. It is the only other world we know of with stable bodies of liquid at its surface. Unlike Earth, frigid Titan’s lakes and seas are filled with methane and ethane. Radar data from the Cassini mission has shown oddly changing shorelines on Titan, above, with islands that seem to magically appear and disappear over time.

Researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory now think these islands may, in fact, be bubbles. As Titan’s lakes cool, they’re better able to absorb nitrogen gas, but when temperatures warm up, that gas comes out of solution and floats to the surface, much like the bubbles of carbon dioxide in a soda. If this hypothesis holds up, there are some interesting implications for Titan’s atmosphere. Here on Earth, bubbles popping in the ocean are a major source of aerosol particles. It’s possible migrating rafts of bubbles could behave similarly on Titan. (Photo credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI/Cornell; submitted by jpshoer)

I’m excited to announce I will be visiting JPL later this month (March 30th), where I have the honor of giving a Women’s History Month talk. If there are any JPLers who are FYFD fans, I hope to see you there. Be sure to RSVP to the ACW luncheon by the March 24th deadline.

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