Methane ocean on Titan?



There was an impressive list of names on a recent scientific communication that argues for the existence on Titan of an ocean of liquid methane (CH4) perhaps several hundred meters deep. C. Sagan and S. Dermott with helpful comments by S. Oter, S. Ostro, S. Peale, C. Yoder, W. Thompson, S. Squyres, G. Pettengill, P. Gierasch, and B. Khare speculate that such a methanic ocean, with its Saturnian tides and its tholinian floor, should exist all over Titan's surface; it should unless, they conclude, there is the ‘distracting coincidence [that] … the position of the surface of Titan [is] … near the liquidus in the CH4phase diagram [and, consequently, there is] …almost no methane ocean at all’ (Nature, 300, 731, 1982).

We know very little about Titan and its surface; the way of checking into Sagan and Dermott's ideas appears to rest on the interpretation of radar reflectivity data. Preliminary attempts to obtain radar data were made in 1979 with the 305-m Arecibo telescope, but only broad limits resulted. The next opportunity for a measurement at Arecibo comes in the 1990's. Of course, the ideal circumstance would be to send spacecraft equipped with a radar reflectometer for a Titan flyby.