Alex Hayes, co-author of a recent study detailing Titan’s canyons, explained that while the Earth is warm and rocky, Saturn’s largest moon in cold and icy. Additionally, both space rocks have rivers but while ours are of liquid water, those of Titan are of liquid methane,
After they sifted through the scientific data beamed back by Cassini spacecraft in 2013, study authors found that the alien moon has a vast network of canyons, some of which are about 2,000 feet deep.
The data is the first direct evidence of the existence of such deep channels on Titan. Past studies had advanced the hypothesis of such channels after researchers had found evidence of methane-filled lakes on the alien world’s surface.
Researchers noted that Titan is very similar to our home planet in many ways. For instance, it has a vast network of seas, rivers and lakes, and a rainfall-producing atmosphere. But the major difference between the two worlds is that Titan’s rain cycle and hydrological system are based on liquid methane, not water.
Furthermore, because methane has a lower freezing point than water it can still remain in liquid form at around minus 290 degrees F. Nevertheless, if the temperatures on Titan had been a few tens of degrees warmer, researchers explained, methane would have morphed into a gaseous form.
On the other hand, scientists didn’t see with their own eyes liquid methane in Titan’s canyons. They speculate that the liquid may be present there because in Cassini’s imagery, the canyons are filled with a mysterious “dark material” which may suggest the presence of methane.
The research team, however, acknowledged that the mystery material may also be either frozen sediment or shadows.
Cassini mission members mapped Titan’s surface and learned that there are canyons through the probe’s radio signals which bounced off of the small world’s surface. The radar technology also showed that the bottom of the canyons is extremely flat which suggests that a flowing liquid created them, not a mystery geological process.
The study was published Aug. 9 in Geophysical Research Letters.
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