Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Methane Rivers Carved Canyons on Saturn's Moon Titan, Scientists Say

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Methane Rivers Carved Canyons on Saturn's Moon Titan, Scientists Say

Article excerpt

Much like the water that carved Earth's Grand Canyon over millions of years, liquid hydrocarbons have cut a network of canyons on Saturn's moon of Titan, a new study of radar images captured by NASA's Cassini spacecraft in 2013 has found.

"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," Alex Hayes, a Cassini radar team associate at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., and co- author of the study, said in a statement.

The study, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters Tuesday, is the first direct evidence that confirms flowing methane carved the deep, steep canyons on the moon's surface. The radar images also indicate some of the canyons could still contain liquid hydrocarbons that continue to carve away at them.

Cassini captured the images in May 2013 by focusing its radar instrument on channels that flow into Ligeia Mare, a methane lake the size of Lake Superior found near the moon's north pole. The researchers that studied the radar images discovered a network of narrow canyons they dubbed Vid Flumina. The canyons are each less than a half-mile wide, but have slopes steeper than all but the steepest ski slopes. The canyons are also 790 feet to 1,870 feet deep.

The canyons' depth and steepness show the process that created them occurred over a long period of time or eroded the canyons' surfaces much faster than other parts of Titan. This could have occurred because the terrain was once at a high elevation (like the process that formed the Grand Canyon), or quickly dropped to the moon's sea level (like the process that formed Arizona's Lake Powell).

"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," Valerio Poggiali, lead author of the study, in the statement. But Mr. Poggiali of the University of Rome added that the discovery points to the need to study Titan's geology more. …

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