ESA scientists found that on Saturn’s largest moon Titan there are sinkholes, depressions, seas and rivers very similar to the ones on Earth.
Plus, researchers believe that a similar process that created sinkholes on our planet is also present on Titan though its surface is furrowed by liquid methane and ethane rather than water.
Besides Earth, Titan is the only known cosmic body in our solar system to have a complex system of lakes and seas, Cassini spacecraft’s imagery had shown. But unlike our planet, Titan is very cold with temperatures sinking to minus 180 degrees Celsius (– 6,084 degrees Fahrenheit) on a daily basis.
But its hydrological cycle is very similar to our planet’s. There are methane seas hundreds of miles across and several hundred feet deep that are fed by river-like channels. And aside the vast seas, Titan has smaller lakes with steep walls and highly regular circular shapes that are located on flat surfaces. Additionally, Saturn’s moon has a system of void depressions, as well.
Titan’s lakes are not fed by rivers. They get their liquid from either rainfall or underground liquids flooding up. But on Titan during one season which usually lasts 30 years some lakes dry out and fill up again in an endless cycle.
Nevertheless, ESA researchers were puzzled by the origin of the numerous depressions dotting Titan’s landscape. From Cassini spacecraft’s data they learned that the lakes on Saturn’s largest moon are very similar to the terrestrial landforms created by erosion.
Titan seems to have soluble rocks,too, that in a humid environment and under the influence of groundwater and rainfall eventually get eroded. Erosion thus led to the formation of sinkholes and caves on Titan as it did on Earth, researchers believe. But in drier climates, erosion generated salt-pans.
Scientists explained that erosion is more aggressive or milder depending on at least three major factors – rock chemistry, amount of rainfall and average temperatures. But though these factors are very different from those on Earth, the process that generated sinkholes and caves is very similar.
Researchers from the European Space Agency (ESA) were able to estimate how long it would take for erosion to create those landforms. During their experiments, they assumed that Titan’s soil contain solid organic components, while the main eroding agent is liquid hydrocarbons. Scientists also took into account climate models for the moon and concluded that it took 50 million years to form a 328 foot-deep depression on the frigid moon’s humid polar regions.
The process is 30 times slower than on our planet, the team explained, mainly because a year on Titan is equivalent to 30 years on Earth and the fact that rainfall only occurs during summer.
Image Source: Sky High Studio