Models of Landscape Formation on Saturn’s Moon Titan Reveal and Earth-Like Alien World

Three Mosaics of Saturn's Moon Titan

These three mosaics of Titan were composed with data from Cassini’s visual and infrared mapping spectrometer taken during the last three Titan flybys, on October 28, 2005 (left), December 26, 2005 (middle), and January 15, 2006 (right). In a new study, researchers have shown how Titan’s distinct dunes, plains, and labyrinth terrains could be formed. Credit: NASA / JPL / University of Arizona

A new hypothesis reveals that a global sedimentary cycle driven by seasons could explain the formation of landscapes on New Cassini Image of Saturn's Moon Titan

This composite image shows an infrared view of Saturn’s moon Titan from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, acquired during the mission’s “T-114” flyby on November 13, 2015. The spacecraft’s visual and infrared mapping spectrometer (VIMS) instrument made these observations, in which blue represents wavelengths centered at 1.3 microns, green represents 2.0 microns, and red represents 5.0 microns. A view at visible wavelengths (centered around 0.5 microns) would show only Titan’s hazy atmosphere. The near-infrared wavelengths in this image allow Cassini’s vision to penetrate the haze and reveal the moon’s surface. Credit: NASA

“Our model adds a unifying framework that allows us to understand how all of these sedimentary environments work together,” said Lapôtre, an assistant professor of geological sciences at Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences (Stanford Earth). “If we understand how the different pieces of the puzzle fit together and their mechanics, then we can start using the landforms left behind by those sedimentary processes to say something about the climate or the geological history of Titan – and how they could impact the prospect for life on Titan. ”

A missing mechanism

In order to build a model that could simulate the formation of Titan’s distinct landscapes, Lapôtre and his colleagues first had to solve one of the biggest mysteries about sediment on the planetary body: How can its basic organic compounds – which are thought to be much more fragile than inorganic silicate grains on Earth – transform into grains that form distinct structures rather than just wearing down and blowing away as dust?

On Earth, silicate rocks and minerals on the surface erode into sediment grains over time, moving through winds and streams to be deposited in layers of sediments that eventually – with the help of pressure, groundwater, and sometimes heat – turn back into rocks. Those rocks then continue through the erosion process and the materials are recycled through Earth’s layers over geologic time.

On Titan, researchers think similar processes formed the dunes, plains, and labyrinth terrains seen from space. But unlike on Earth, Related

Leave a Comment