Science & Technology

We Asked a NASA Scientist: Are There Rivers and Lakes on Other Worlds?

This composite image shows an infrared view of Saturn’s moon Titan from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, acquired during the mission’s “T-114” flyby on November 13, 2015. Titan has lakes and rivers on its surface, but they are made out of methane and ethane. Credit: NASA

Are there rivers and lakes on other worlds?

The answer, surprisingly, is yes!

Titan, which is the largest moon of Saturn, has lakes and rivers on its surface. Unlike Earth, the rivers and lakes, and streams on Titan are made out of methane and ethane. But very much like Earth, there’s what we call a hydrologic cycle. So methane can move back and forth between the surface and the atmosphere.

That means that we don’t just have lakes and streams and rivers. We also have rain and clouds. And Titan is one of the only places in the solar system where it might be possible to see a rainbow.

Are there rivers and lakes on other worlds? You bet. Just like Earth, Saturn’s moon Titan is home to these fairly unique features, except these lakes and rivers aren’t filled with water. Planetary scientist Dr. Sarah Hörst spills the science tea.

At other points in solar system history, we do think that other worlds also had lakes and streams. Mars, for example, we know, had a lot of liquid water on its surface earlier in its history.

But today there’s only two places in our solar system that currently have liquid on their surface — Earth and Titan.

So, are there rivers and lakes on other worlds? In our solar system, the answer is definitely yes, but we also know that there’s more to be discovered as we start to learn more about planets around other stars.

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