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Titan's windswept dunes may sprawl millions of more kilometers than previously thought and were likely formed by geological processes similar to those on Earth, according to a new study. The new findings could help scientists look for life or its molecular precursors on Saturn's largest moon.
The study, published in the Journal of Geophysical Research—Planets, a publication of the American Geophysical Union, uses new maps of Titan to explore two questions about Saturn's largest moon: How are Titan's dunes formed, and what are they made of?
Titan - Atmosphere - Layers - Compounds - Peer
Titan's atmosphere is incredibly dense, with thick layers of organic compounds floating throughout it. Peer through that atmosphere, however, and you'll see a frigid landscape not unlike Earth's arid deserts.
Titan's surface holds valleys, canyons, lakes, mountains and dunes. Many of these Earth-like surface features exist in part because of Titan's weather system, where liquid hydrocarbons, like methane, rain from the sky.
Process - Dunes - Earth - Canyons - River
The geological process behind these dunes may be similar to those that etch Earth's canyons and river channels, according to the new research. Just as rains slowly cut canyons and channels on Earth, Titan's hydrocarbon rains kick off a process that begins at the top of the moon's equatorial mountain ranges and ends in its sprawling dune plains and dust storms.
In analyzing the most detailed images of Titan's equator to date, the study's authors also suggest the dunes cover much more area than previously thought. The dunes extend three million square kilometers (more than one million square miles) further than previous estimates, the equivalent of ten Namib deserts, according to the new research.
Titan - Atmosphere - Weather - System - Compounds
Because Titan has a nitrogen-rich atmosphere, active weather system and organic compounds on its face, its surface could be hospitable to life or its prebiotic constituents. Understanding the geological processes happening there could help scientists uncover where life might be, said Jeremy Brossier of...
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