An artistic rendering of Kraken Mare, the large liquid methane sea on Saturn’s moon Titan.
Credit: NASA/John Glenn Research Center

 

 

Kraken Mare is a sea of liquid methane on Saturn’s largest moon, Titan.

New research by Cornell astronomers estimate that sea to be at least 1,000 feet deep near its center – and that’s roomy for a future robotic submarine to investigate. Beyond deep, Kraken Mare also is immense – nearly the size of all five Great Lakes combined.

Titan’s atmosphere makes Saturn’s largest moon look like a fuzzy orange ball in this natural-color view from the Cassini spacecraft. Cassini captured this image in 2012.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Their findings – “The Bathymetry of Moray Sinus at Titan’s Kraken Mare” – are published Dec. 4, 2020 in the Journal of Geophysical Research and are based on the Cassini spacecraft’s radar altimeter, collected in August 2014.

Sea floor returns

“The radar waves are absorbed to an extent such that the liquid composition is compatible with 70% methane, 16% nitrogen, and 14% ethane (assuming ideal mixing),” the research team reports.

This near-infrared, color mosaic from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft shows the sun glinting off of Titan’s north polar seas. The view was acquired during Cassini’s August 21, 2014 flyby of Titan.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/University of Idaho

Studying the altimetry data in the main body of Kraken Mare, the team found no evidence for echo returns from the sea floor, “suggesting the liquid is either too deep or too absorptive for Cassini’s radio waves to penetrate.”

Artistic view of Cassini exploring Saturn.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

However, they add that, if the liquid in the main body of Kraken Mare is similar in composition to Moray Sinus, as one would expect, then its depth exceeds 328 feet (100 meters).

“This is compatible with a separate estimate using the radar as a ‘radiometer,’ sensing thermal energy from the sea at radio wavelengths,” they conclude.

Co-authors on the paper are: Alex Hayes, professor of astronomy and director of CCAPS; Jonathan Lunine, the David C. Duncan Professor in the Physical Sciences, and chair, Department of Astronomy; Marco Mastrogiuseppe, former Cornell postdoctoral researcher, now research associate at Sapienza University of Rome, Italy; Alice Le Gall, The Institut Universitaire de France, Paris; and research associates Illeana Gomez-Leal and Daniel Lalich.

Speculative robotic submarine for deep sea diving on Titan. Credit: NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC)

NASA provided funding for this research.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To access the paper — “The Bathymetry of Moray Sinus at Titan’s Kraken Mare” — go to:

https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1029/2020JE006558

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