Titan’s Missing Impact Craters - A Weirdly Earth-Like Place

Plate tectonics, erupting volcanoes, advancing glaciers and river networks have all reshaped Earth’s surface over billions of years. On Titan, similar processes — tectonic upheaval, icy lava eruptions, erosion and sedimentation by rivers — may be at work. “It’s a weirdly Earth-like place, even with this exotic combination of materials and temperatures,” said Taylor Perron, the Cecil and Ida Green Assistant Professor of Geology at MIT. “It’s a surface that should have eroded much more than what we’re seeing, if the river networks have been active for a long time,” says Perron. “It raises some very interesting questions about what has been happening on Titan in the last billion years.”

While images of Titan have revealed its present landscape, very little is known about its geologic past. Now researchers at MIT and the University of Tennessee at Knoxville have analyzed images of Titan’s river networks and determined that in some regions, rivers have created surprisingly little erosion. The researchers say there are two possible explanations: either erosion on Titan is extremely slow, or some other recent phenomena may have wiped out older riverbeds and landforms.

Compared to most moons in our solar system, Titan is relatively smooth, with few craters pockmarking its facade. Titan is around four billion years old, about the same age as the rest of the solar system. But judging by the number of craters, one might estimate that its surface is much younger, between 100 million and one billion years old.

What might explain this moon’s low crater count? Perron says the answer may be similar to what happens on Earth. * “We don’t have many impact craters on Earth,” Perron says. “People flock to them because they’re so few, and one explanation is that Earth’s continents are always eroding or being covered with sediment. That may be the case on Titan, too.”

But identifying which of these geological phenomena may have modified Titan’s surface is a significant challenge. Images generated by the Cassini spacecraft, similar to aerial photos but with much coarser resolution, are flat, depicting terrain from a bird’s-eye perspective, with no information about a landform’s elevation or depth.

“It’s an interesting challenge,” Perron says. “It’s almost like we were thrown back a few centuries, before there were many topographic maps, and we only had maps showing where the rivers are.”

In 2012, Perron and MIT graduate student Benjamin Black set out to determine the extent to which river networks may have renewed Titan’s surface. The team analyzed images taken from Cassini-Huygens, and mapped 52 prominent river networks from four regions on Titan. The researchers compared the images with a model of river network evolution developed by Perron. This model depicts the evolution of a river over time, given variables such as the strength of the underlying material and the rate of flow through the river channels. As a river erodes slowly through the ice, it transforms from a long, spindly thread into a dense, treelike network of tributaries.

Read More

Images Celestia Files by Runar Thorvaldsen

  1. kurtanrat reblogged this from proseandpassion
  2. proseandpassion reblogged this from theproductionproject
  3. theproductionproject reblogged this from electricspacekoolaid
  4. vanesa reblogged this from electricspacekoolaid
  5. iarrthoireolais reblogged this from electricspacekoolaid
  6. redcodex reblogged this from thenewenlightenmentage
  7. lovelyuniversee reblogged this from thenewenlightenmentage
  8. celticheavens reblogged this from electricspacekoolaid
  9. mubyace reblogged this from electricspacekoolaid
  10. space5rson reblogged this from electricspacekoolaid
  11. whatistrueforme reblogged this from thenewenlightenmentage
  12. iamawizard99 reblogged this from thenewenlightenmentage
  13. paradiseinadreamstate reblogged this from thenewenlightenmentage
  14. gramnegativemind reblogged this from magicaloctopus
  15. scifirusure reblogged this from thenewenlightenmentage
  16. the-liberty-republican reblogged this from i-am-jason-grace
  17. officialcassinihuygens reblogged this from officialhubble
  18. djairsurfer reblogged this from thenewenlightenmentage
  19. memphismayearthwindandfire reblogged this from thenewenlightenmentage
  20. scalesandmagic reblogged this from thenewenlightenmentage
  21. adyashanti reblogged this from thenewenlightenmentage