Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Methane-filled canyons line Titan's surface, study finds

11.08.2016

New research provides direct evidence of deep canyons carved by flowing liquid methane on Saturn's largest moon

Liquid methane-filled canyons hundreds of meters deep with walls as steep as ski slopes etch the surface of Titan, researchers report in a new study. The new findings provide the first direct evidence of these features on Saturn's largest moon, and could give scientists insights into Titan's origins and similar geologic processes on Earth, according to the study's authors.


A view of Titan's northern pole reveals many hydrocarbon lakes and seas. Titan is the only other celestial body, in addition to Earth, where erosion actively etches its surface.

Credit: NASA, JPL-Caltech, ASI, and USGS

New Cassini radar observations of Titan's north pole depict cavernous gorges a little less than a kilome-ter (less than half a mile) wide with walls up to 570 meters (1870 feet) tall -- about 30 meters (98 feet) higher than New York's Freedom Tower. The eight canyons branch off from Vid Flumina, a more than 400-kilometer (249-mile) long river flowing into Titan's second-largest sea, Ligeia Mare. The new data confirm the canyons are filled with flowing methane -- a feature researchers had suspected but not directly observed, according to the study's authors.

The new findings suggest the canyons were likely carved by liquid methane draining into Vid Flumina, a process similar to the carving of river gorges on Earth, according to the study's authors. The new re-search could help scientists better understand these geological processes, they said.

"These are processes we need to totally understand because they can shed deeper light on our own planet," said Valerio Poggiali, a planetary scientist at the La Sapienza University of Rome, Italy, and lead author of the new study published in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union.

NASA's Cassini spacecraft, launched in 1997, has granted scientists their first up-close look at Saturn, its rings and moons. Cassini's observations of Titan -- with its many Earth-like features -- have given sci-entists a glimpse of what our planet might have been like millions of years ago, according to NASA.

Scientists first observed Titan's hydrocarbon seas in 2006 during one of Cassini's early flybys. Six years later the spacecraft spied Vid Flumina and its branching channels. Researchers suspected those chan-nels, some of which appeared canyon-like, were filled with flowing methane. Other clues like icy peb-bles rounded by river-flow affirmed their suspicions, but they lacked direct evidence the channels were liquid-filled - until now.

"What we didn't know was whether some channels still contained liquids, i.e., whether these rivers of methane were still flowing," said Rosaly Lopes, a planetary geologist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Labora-tory in Pasadena, California, who is also mapping Titan's surface but was not connected to the study. "[Poggiali's] work is what nailed that."

Methane rivers and seas

The researchers used Cassini's instruments to bounce radio signals off Titan's surface. The returned signals defined the moon's surface features, allowing the researchers to discern rocky outcrops from smooth liquid.

The signals show the canyons' walls rise at least as sharply as 40 degrees. Earth shares a similar slope in one of its most dangerous ski runs: Corbet's Coulier in Wyoming. On Earth, skiers plunge down the lofty mountain and glide over snow, but a skier on Titan would tumble hundreds of meters down the canyon walls and splash into a methane river. Although the images showed the canyons were filled with liquid methane, they could not measure the depth of the liquid, which could run shallow or deep, according to the new study.

The study's authors draw comparisons between Titan's canyons, and Arizona and Utah's Lake Powell and the Nile River gorge. Both feature canyons and valleys etched by erosion from flowing liquid. The deep cuts in Titan's landscape indicate the process that created them occurred over multiple extended periods, though the age of that process remains uncertain. They could have been created by uplift of the terrain or changes in sea level, or both, according to the study's authors.

Titan is the only planetary body in our solar system, other than Earth, to have a surface actively eroding on a large scale, according to Lopes.

"We have seen some canyons elsewhere, such as Vallis Marineris on Mars," Lopes said. "However, on Titan, this study shows evidence that some canyons are still filled with liquid and presumably in the process of carving canyons."

Studying the geologic processes on Titan can help researchers tease apart the moon's origins and con-ditions on early Earth. Titan allows scientists to see how these processes change under varying condi-tions, like changes in temperature, according to Lopes.

"On Earth we can't vary the conditions like surface temperature and atmospheric density to see how geologic processes would behave," Lopes said. But by turning to Titan, scientists can see how familiar processes could change when those conditions are altered, she added.

"Although the term is overused, Titan is really a 'natural laboratory' for understanding geological pro-cesses," Lopes said.

Lopes said many more small canyons may line Titan's surface, possibly hidden just below the resolu-tion of Cassini's instruments. Future missions could reveal those and other features, which may fur-ther color our understanding of Titan's origins, she said.

###

The American Geophysical Union is dedicated to advancing the Earth and space sciences for the benefit of humanity through its scholarly publications, conferences, and outreach programs. AGU is a not-for-profit, professional, scientific organization representing more than 60,000 members in 139 countries. Join the conversation on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and our other social media channels.

Notes for Journalists

This research article will be open access for 30 days from the date of publication. A PDF copy of the article can be downloaded at the following link: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/2016GL069679/abstract

After 30 days, journalists and public information officers (PIOs) of educational and scientific institutions who have registered with AGU can download a PDF copy of the article from the same link.

Journalists and PIOs may also order a copy of the final paper by emailing a request to Brendan Bane at bbane@agu.org.

Please provide your name, the name of your publication, and your phone number.

Neither the paper nor this press release is under embargo.

Title: "Liquid-filled Canyons on Titan"

Authors: Valerio Poggiali, Roberto Seu: Dipartimento di Ingegneria dell-Informazione, Elettronica e Teleco-municazioni (DIET), Sapienza Università di Roma, 00185 Roma, Italy.;

Alexander G. Hayes, Jason D. Hofgartner, Marco Mastrogiuseppe, Samuel P. D. Birch: Cornell Center for Astrophysical Science, Cornell University, Ithaca, 14850 New York, U.S.A.;

Cyril Grima: Institute for Geophysics, University of Texas, Austin, Texas, U.S.A.;

Ralph Lorenz: Applied Physics Laboratory, Johns Hopkins University, Laurel, Maryland, U.S.A.

Contact Information for the Authors: Valerio Poggiali: (office) +39 064 458 5469, (home) +39 064 549 1279, (cell) +39 339 825 8595, valerio.poggiali@uniroma1.it

Alex Hayes: hayes@astro.cornell.edu

Rosaly Lopes: rosaly.m.lopes-gautier@jpl.nasa.gov

AGU Contact:
Brendan Bane
+1 (202) 777-7409
bbane@agu.org

NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory Contact:
Preston Dyches
+1 (818) 354 -7013
preston.dyches@jpl.nasa.gov

Media Contact

Brendan Bane
bbane@agu.org
202-777-7409

 @theagu

http://www.agu.org 

Brendan Bane | EurekAlert!

Further reports about: American Geophysical Union Earth NASA Titan canyons

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht NASA eyes Pineapple Express soaking California
24.02.2017 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

nachricht 'Quartz' crystals at the Earth's core power its magnetic field
23.02.2017 | Tokyo Institute of Technology

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Breakthrough with a chain of gold atoms

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

Im Focus: DNA repair: a new letter in the cell alphabet

Results reveal how discoveries may be hidden in scientific “blind spots”

Cells need to repair damaged DNA in our genes to prevent the development of cancer and other diseases. Our cells therefore activate and send “repair-proteins”...

Im Focus: Dresdner scientists print tomorrow’s world

The Fraunhofer IWS Dresden and Technische Universität Dresden inaugurated their jointly operated Center for Additive Manufacturing Dresden (AMCD) with a festive ceremony on February 7, 2017. Scientists from various disciplines perform research on materials, additive manufacturing processes and innovative technologies, which build up components in a layer by layer process. This technology opens up new horizons for component design and combinations of functions. For example during fabrication, electrical conductors and sensors are already able to be additively manufactured into components. They provide information about stress conditions of a product during operation.

The 3D-printing technology, or additive manufacturing as it is often called, has long made the step out of scientific research laboratories into industrial...

Im Focus: Mimicking nature's cellular architectures via 3-D printing

Research offers new level of control over the structure of 3-D printed materials

Nature does amazing things with limited design materials. Grass, for example, can support its own weight, resist strong wind loads, and recover after being...

Im Focus: Three Magnetic States for Each Hole

Nanometer-scale magnetic perforated grids could create new possibilities for computing. Together with international colleagues, scientists from the Helmholtz Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) have shown how a cobalt grid can be reliably programmed at room temperature. In addition they discovered that for every hole ("antidot") three magnetic states can be configured. The results have been published in the journal "Scientific Reports".

Physicist Dr. Rantej Bali from the HZDR, together with scientists from Singapore and Australia, designed a special grid structure in a thin layer of cobalt in...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Booth and panel discussion – The Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings at the AAAS 2017 Annual Meeting

13.02.2017 | Event News

Complex Loading versus Hidden Reserves

10.02.2017 | Event News

International Conference on Crystal Growth in Freiburg

09.02.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Stingless bees have their nests protected by soldiers

24.02.2017 | Life Sciences

New risk factors for anxiety disorders

24.02.2017 | Life Sciences

MWC 2017: 5G Capital Berlin

24.02.2017 | Trade Fair News

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>