One of the places that many scientists believe could harbor life in our solar system is on the surface of Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. Titan has a gaseous atmosphere and scientists believe beneath that atmosphere is a sea of liquid methane known as Kraken Mare. Astronomers at Cornell have now estimated the sea of liquid methane is at least 1000 feet deep near its center.
That’s good news because researchers say it is deep enough for a potential robotic submarine to explore. The announcement comes after the researchers sifted through data obtained from one of the final Cassini flybys of Titan. Lead author on the research Valerio Poggiali says the depth and composition of each of Titan’s seas have already been measured except for Kraken Mare.
Kraken Mare is the largest sea on the moon, with about 80 percent of its surface liquids. Titan is about a billion miles away from Earth and covered in a golden haze of gaseous nitrogen. According to NASA, the surface viewed through the clouds has an Earthlike appearance with rivers of methane, lakes, and seas.
Data used by the scientists to estimate the depth of the largest sea was gathered on the Cassini T104 flyby of Titan that happened on August 21, 2014. Radar aboard the spacecraft was surveying a smaller sea in the northern polar region of Titan called Ligeia Mare, looking for an island dubbed the “Magic Island” that appears and disappears into the sea.
At an altitude of 600 miles above the surface of Titan orbiting 13,000 mph, the spacecraft used its radar altimeter to measure the liquid depth at Kraken Mare and Moray Sinus. The team can determine the depth by noting the radar’s return time differences on the liquid surface and the sea bottom. The composition is measured by acknowledging the amount of radar energy absorbed during transit through the liquid. Moray Sinus is about 280 feet deep, while Kraken Mare was too deep to measure with the altimeter, leading to the 1000 feet estimate.