Scientists observe first ever extra-terrestrial ‘waves’ on Saturn’s moon Titan

Tiny liquid ‘ripples’ on moon’s sea may be the first ever seen not on Earth itself

Scientists observing the moons of Saturn say they may have discovered liquid waves rippling on the surface of Titan – the first ever observed on a world other than our own.

Previous explorations of Titan by Nasa’s Cassini spacecraft have discovered liquid seas on its surface, filled with dense hydrocarbons like methane instead of water.

The probe has photographed the moon’s surface many times over a number of separate fly-by missions, but it had always seemed like the surface was smooth as glass.

Now, though, a series of images have thrown up unusual glints of sunlight coming from Punga Mare, one of the larger seas, which scientists believe may come from tiny, shimmering groups of waves.

Planetary scientist Jason Barnes, of the University of Idaho in the US, presented his findings this week at the Lunar Planetary Science Conference.

If accurate, they represent the first oceanic waves ever detected that weren’t on the surface of Earth itself.

“Titan may be beginning to stir,” fellow astro-physicist Ralph Lorenz told Nature.com. “Oceanography is no longer just an Earth science.”

But, as Barnes told the conference, “don’t make your surfing plane reservation for Titan just yet” – the waves are no more than 2cm high and, in any case, the surface temperature of the moon is around -180C.

The finding is not certain, with other possibilities such as the appearance of wet mudflats impossible to rule out at this stage.

The news comes after Nasa set aside funds to explore a mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa, whose icy exterior may hide a single, massive ocean with tidal swells and possibly even life.

And on the topic of the discovery of liquids acting in the most unlikely places, scientists last week said a rare diamond from deep within the Earth may confirm theories that beneath our own planet’s surface there is an ocean’s-worth of water.

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