It is a well-known fact that the surface of Saturn’s moon, Titan, resembles Earth, and according to this latest study done by an assistant professor of geological sciences at Stanford University, Mathieu Lapôtre, we now have an explanation.
Titan is known as Saturn’s largest moon and has a lot of similarities with Earth-like Earth-like landscapes: lakes and rivers, labyrinthine canyons, and soft dunes. Despite this, the geological formations are quite different from that of Earth. Earth’s geological formations are made of water, but Titan’s consist of liquid methane. It flows through rivers, and its dunes are formed of hydrocarbons instead of sand.
Before this latest discovery, scientists all across the globe had been stumped by these similar formations. Still, now thanks to a team led by Mathieu Lapôtre, we have a very plausible theory.
Titan’s sediments are theorized to consist of solid organic components, making them far more fragile than the sediments found on Earth made of silicate. Hence, Titan’s sediments turn into dust because of nitrogen wind and liquid methane. To preserve this, the researchers have come across a solution consisting of a combination of sintering, current, and seasonal change that will potentially do the trick.
The sediments that are found to have a similar composition to those found on Titan are called Ooids. They are found in tropical waters, where they form fine grains. These grains then accrete material via chemical precipitation and erode in the sea. This results in them maintaining a consistent size. According to these researchers, this same can happen on Titan.
Lapôtre’s statement regarding this topic reads, “We hypothesised that sintering — which involves neighbouring grains fusing together into one piece — could counterbalance abrasion when winds transport the grains.”
This whole thing was discovered by analyzing the atmospheric data from Titan, which was recorded during the Cassini mission to determine how those sediments could have formed such vastly different geological features observed around the planet.
Through this, it is discovered that since winds were more common around the moon’s equator, it created optimal conditions for the development of dunes.
Lapôtre further explained, “We’re showing that on Titan — just like on Earth and what used to be the case on Mars — we have an active sedimentary cycle that can explain the latitudinal distribution of landscapes through episodic abrasion and sintering driven by Titan’s seasons. It’s pretty fascinating to think about how there’s this alternative world so far out there, where things are so different, yet so similar.”
This research was published on April 1, 2022, in Geophysical Research Letters.