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Canyons Flooded with Methane Found on Saturn's Moon

Aug 12, 2016 02:47 AM EDT
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Floods apparently don't just occur naturally on earth. For Saturn's moon, Titan is experiencing floods as well. However, the flood isn't composed of water but is instead composed of methane.

Thanks to NASA's Cassini spacecraft, researchers have made an amazing discovery about Saturn's moon, Titan. The spacecraft captured images of Titan during a close flight of 5,000 km back in May 2013. Published on the Geophysical Research Letters, the paper states that deep, flooded canyons are visible on the surface of Titan, which is quite similar to those found on planet Earth.

"Earth is warm and rocky, with rivers of water, while Titan is cold and icy, with rivers of methane. And yet it's remarkable that we find such similar features on both worlds," said Alex Hayes, co-author of the study.

In the study, researchers add that the same forces on Earth that caused the Grand Canyon could most likely be the same on Titan. A sudden drop in the sea level would have caused the liquid to cut down through the rock, causing the canyons. Titan's canyons are up to 570 meters deep and also have slopes that go 40 degrees steep.

"It's likely that a combination of these forces contributed to the formation of the deep canyons, but at present it's not clear to what degree each was involved. What is clear is that any description of Titan's geological evolution needs to be able to explain how the canyons got there," added Valerio Poggiali, lead author of the study.

Scientists still have a year left to delve further into Titan's canyons with the help of Cassini. Spacecraft Cassini is a joint effort between the European Space Agency, the Italian Space Agency, and NASA. Cassini was launched in 1997 and made its way to Saturn's system by 2004. The spacecraft will continue to explore Saturn's system for one more year before a scheduled death dive into Saturn's atmosphere by September 2017.

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