The Caspian Sea covers an area of about 371,000 square kilometers and, since it is technically a lake (to prevent access by foreign ships), it is the largest lake on Earth. However, interestingly, there is an even larger lake within our Solar System.

It is called Kraken Mare and is a vast expanse of liquid hydrocarbons on the surface of Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. It was discovered by the Cassini space probe in 2006 and was named in 2008 in honor of the legendary Kraken sea monster. With an area almost twice that of the Caspian Sea on Earth, Kraken Mare stands out not only for its size but also for its unique composition and characteristics.

Located in the northern polar region of Titan, Kraken Mare covers approximately 500,000 square kilometers, making it the largest body of liquid on this moon. Its composition, predominantly liquid methane, was identified through radar images obtained by the Cassini probe. These images revealed that the main body of Kraken Mare has a depth of at least 100 meters and probably exceeds 300 meters in certain areas.

The Kraken Sea photographed on Titan by Cassini
The Kraken Sea photographed on Titan by Cassini. Credit: Justin Cowart / NASA / JPL / Cassini-ISS / Public domain / Wikimedia Commons

Moray Sinus bay, located at its northern end, has a central depth of 85 meters. Radar data indicated that the mixture of liquids in this bay consists of approximately 70% methane, 16% nitrogen, and 14% ethane, suggesting a homogeneous mixture of these components.

Kraken Mare also hosts an island called Mayda Insula and is hydrologically connected to Titan’s second-largest sea, Ligeia Mare. This connection could explain the difference in the composition of both seas, as certain compounds flow from Ligeia Mare to Kraken Mare, which has a lower concentration of methane.

A strait known as Seldon Fretum, located at 317°W and 67°N, with a width of approximately 17 kilometers (comparable to the Strait of Gibraltar), has been nicknamed the Throat of Kraken. This strait could be the site of significant currents driven by Titan’s orbital eccentricity, generating waves up to one meter high in Kraken Mare, creating currents of 0.5 meters per second. Some estimates suggest even higher tides, up to five meters, which could create whirlpools in this region.

This radar image, obtained by Cassini's radar instrument during a near-polar flyby on Feb. 22, 2007, shows a big island smack in the middle of one of the larger lakes imaged on Saturn's moon Titan. This image offers further evidence that the largest lakes are at the highest latitudes.
This radar image, obtained by Cassini’s radar instrument during a near-polar flyby on Feb. 22, 2007, shows a big island smack in the middle of one of the larger lakes imaged on Saturn’s moon Titan. This image offers further evidence that the largest lakes are at the highest latitudes. Credit: NASA / Jet Propulsion Laboratory-Caltech / Agenzia Spaziale Italiana / Public domain / Wikimedia Commons

A fascinating phenomenon of Kraken Mare is the Magic Islands, changing features observed on the surface of the sea that could be rising bubbles due to nitrogen exsolution, indicating an active hydrocarbon cycle on Titan.

The discovery of Kraken Mare and other lakes on Titan by the Cassini probe in July 2006 was a significant milestone. The identification of these dark areas with low radar reflectivity and morphological features similar to terrestrial lakes confirmed the presence of large liquid masses on Titan. Cassini’s visible and infrared mapping spectrometer also examined Kraken Mare and its surroundings, providing greater understanding of its characteristics and composition.

Since the discovery of Kraken Mare, there have been several proposals to explore its depths with probes and submarines. One of these submarines has gone through a study phase by NASA, with detailed designs and schematics. Another proposal, the Titan Mare Explorer, was close to being approved to explore Ligeia Mare, with Kraken Mare as a secondary target. However, the InSight mission to Mars ultimately received the green light.

This is the submarine that NASA could use on Titan
This is the submarine that NASA could use on Titan. Credit: NASA

Although there are currently no specific missions to explore Kraken Mare, the Dragonfly mission, a drone that will be sent to Titan, has been approved. Dragonfly is not intended to explore Titan’s seas directly, but its mission could provide valuable information about the environment of this fascinating moon and possibly pave the way for future explorations of Kraken Mare and other liquid bodies on Titan.


This article was first published on our Spanish Edition on June 14, 2024: Mar de Kraken, el mayor lago del Sistema Solar


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