Scientists from Stanford University, led by Mathieu Lapôtre, have been studying landscape formations on Saturn’s moon Titan and discovered that it is a lot more Earth-like than once thought. There are several future space missions planned for Titan because of its potential habitability, as it’s the only other celestial body in our solar system known to have an Earth-like, seasonal liquid transport cycle today.
Right here on Earth, silicate rocks and minerals on the surface erode into sediment grains over time, moving through winds as well as streams to be deposited in layers of sediments that eventually transform back into rocks. Those rocks then continue through the erosion process until the materials are recycled through Earth’s layers over geologic time. Scientists believe that similar processes formed the dunes, plains and terrains on Titan. Unlike Earth, Titan’s sediments are thought to be composed of solid organic compounds rather than silicate-derived rocks. Now we just need a close fly-by of Titan by one of NASA’s spacecraft.
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Our model adds a unifying framework that allows us to understand how all of these sedimentary environments work together. If we understand how the different pieces of the puzzle fit together and their mechanics, then we can start using the landforms left behind by those sedimentary processes to say something about the climate or the geological history of Titan – and how they could impact the prospect for life on Titan,” said Mathieu Lapôtre, an assistant professor of geological sciences at Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences (Stanford Earth).