Titan’s Ocean Might Be as Salty as the Dead Sea

New data from the Cassini mission shows that the ocean under Titan’s ice shell is likely very salty

NASA/JPL-Caltech/Michael Benson/Kinetikon Pictures/Corbis

A new study published in the journal Icarus found that the oceans of one Saturnian moon, Titan, might be as salty as the water found in the Dead Sea. 

Gravity data taken from measurements made by the Cassini mission showed that the ocean, which supports a rigid icy crust, must have a very high density, making it very likely that the water in the ocean is incredibly salty. The salts on Titan would likely be sulfur-, sodium- and potassium-based. The data also showed that the thickness of the ice crust of Titan was uneven, indicating that it is likely in the process of freezing solid. 

"This is an extremely salty ocean by Earth standards," the paper's lead author, Giuseppe Mitri, said in a press release. "Knowing this may change the way we view this ocean as a possible abode for present-day life, but conditions might have been very different there in the past."

The presence on Titan of an atmosphere and liquid make it a top contender in the search for extraterrestrial life. But much of the liquid (at least on the surface) is methane. That the water under the crust is also salty and inhospitable makes it slightly less likely that scientists will find life as we know it under Titan’s icy crust. But stranger things have happened (and there is some microbial life in the Dead Sea).  

The Cassini probe celebrated the 10th anniversary of its arrival at Saturn earlier this week. The data that it sent back has spawned over 3,000 published studies and given scientists unprecedented access to Saturn and its satellites.  

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