Saturn`s largest moon `Titan` is earth-like: Astronomers

Last Updated: Sunday, July 22, 2012 - 22:08

London: Titan, Saturn`s largest moon is "a weirdly Earth-like place" when it comes to geology, astronomers have claimed.

Titan boasts landscapes shaped by the flow of rivers, though they are rivers of liquid methane, not of water.

And, like Earth, the surface of Titan is surprisingly free of craters, implying that geological activity is constantly reshaping the moon, as also happens here.

"It`s a weirdly Earth-like place," Taylor Perron, assistant professor of geology at MIT said, "even with this exotic combination of materials and temperatures."

The icy landscape of Titan was first discovered by Earth-bound researchers in 2004, when the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft which orbits Saturn first broke through the moon`s atmosphere, the Daily Mail reported.

Scientists had previously been unable to see the amazing rivers which carve out channels in the moon`s surface, as its atmosphere is so thick with methane and nitrogen that the landscape is not visible from Earth.

Intrigued by the discovery of the methane rivers, researchers from MIT and the University of Tennessee at Knoxville wanted to investigate the history of Titan`s geology.

However, despite the visible river networks, the astronomers found less erosion than they had expected, given that Titan has been orbiting Saturn for four billion years.

Similarly, when they looked for craters which could have been caused by meteorites, there were far fewer than on most other moons in the solar system.

In fact, the number of craters was more reminiscent to the situation on Earth, where plate tectonics and volcanic explosions have covered up much of the impact of foreign bodies on the planet.

"Earth`s continents are always eroding or being covered with sediment," Perron said.

"That may be the case on Titan, too," he added.

Discovering which factors were responsible for shaping Titan`s landscape could be a challenge, as the satellite images do not give a good impression of the ups and downs of the moon`s terrain.

Despite the challenges, Perron said he expected the similarities between Titan and Earth would give scientists an ongoing insight into how the moon`s surface has changed over millennia.

PTI



First Published: Sunday, July 22, 2012 - 22:07

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