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This artist's concept envisions what hydrocarbon ice forming on a liquid hydrocarbon sea of Saturn's moon Titan might look like in this NASA image. (Photo : Reuters)
After years of research, scientists might have detected liquid waves on the surface of Saturn's largest moon , according to BBC News.
Planetary scientist Jason Barnes discussed his findings at the 45th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC) in Texas this week.
An image of Titan's North Pole was captures by NASA's Cassini probe during a July 2012 flyby. The photo shows sunlight being reflected from surface liquid, similar to the way a mirror re-directs light.
This is known as a specular reflection, according to BBC News.
Rain and wind shape the surface of Titan, to form river channels, dunes, seas, and shorelines.
The moon's dune fields and mountains are made of ice, instead of rock or sand. Liquid hydrocarbons plays the role of water on the moon, according to BBC News.
Most of Titan's seas and lakes are concentrated around the North Polar region, though one of these bodies of liquid likely contains mostly liquid methane. Ligeia Mare contains about 40 times the proven reserves of gas and oil on Earth, according to BBC News.
"We think we've found the first waves outside the Earth," said Barnes, from the University of Idaho, at the meeting. "What we're seeing seems to be consistent with waves at just a few locations in Punga Mare [with a slope] of six degrees."
Barnes used a mathematical model to analyze whether the features in the image were compatible with waves, according to BBC News.
He said other possibilities couldn't be ruled out yet, like a wet mudflat.
If he is correct though, Barnes calculated that a wind speed of approximately 0.75 m/s would be required to produce ripples with the necessary slope of six degrees.
This would mean the waves are just 2cm high.
"Don't make your surfing vacation reservations for Titan just yet," Barnes joked, during the meeting.
Titan runs on a 30-year seasonal cycle, and the northern region is currently approaching summer solstice, which the moon will mark in 2017, according to BBC News.
"The expectation is that any day now, the winds will start getting strong enough as we move into northern summer, and the waves will start picking up," said Ralph Lorenz, from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (JHUAPL) in Maryland, to BBC News.

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