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Saturn's Weird Moon Titan Is Covered With Electrically Charged Sands

Mar 30, 2017 06:08 AM EDT

Scientists have discovered that Saturn's weird moon Titan actually has very durable sands. Not only is Titan's seas filled with hydrocarbons, its sands are also very electrically charged.

According to a study published in Nature Geoscience, scientists have discovered that the grains of sand in dune-like structures on Titan may be "charged" as they bump into each other, generating static electricity.

According to Josef Dufek, co-author of the study, any sand castle in Titan can stay the same way given the strength of the electrically charged sands. Spacecraft landing in regions of the moon with sand can also get very dirty, but the researchers have not yet come up with a solution for this.

The scientists simulated the sand found on Titan by mixing two hydrocarbons -- naphthalene and biphenyl -- that have been identified in Titan's surface. They placed them in a tub that recreated Titan's atmospheric conditions, which is primarily nitrogen, and shook it up.

This forced the sand grains to hit each other for 20 minutes. The researchers observed that the grains were still electrically charged and others even stuck to the tube's interior.

According to Popular Science, on Earth, naphthalene is an ingredient in mothballs while biphenyl causes cancer in rats. But it's a different case in Saturn's moon Titan. The study may explain just why the dune-like structures in Titan tend to stay in the same shape.

"Titan's extreme physical environment requires scientists to think differently about what we've learned of Earth's granular dynamics," Dufek said. "Landforms are influenced by forces that aren't intuitive to us because those forces aren't so important on Earth. Titan is a strange, electrostatically sticky world."

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