How Methane Rivers Carved Deep Canyons Into Saturn's Moon Titan

NASA’s Cassini Finds Liquid-Filled Canyons on Saturn’s Moon Titan

Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, is home to massive canyons flooded with liquid hydrocarbons, according to a new study.


Researchers analyzed 2013 data from NASA’s Cassini Spacecraft to determine that dark channels branching out from Titan’s Ligeia Mar sea are filled with liquid, according to the study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

The research marks the first time scientists have evidence there are liquid-filled canyons on Titan, NASA said in a statement. 

“The branching channels appear dark in radar images, much like Titan’s methane-rich seas,” according to NASA. “Previously it wasn’t clear if the dark material was liquid or merely saturated sediment.”

The canyons are 790 to 1,870  feet deep in some areas, according to NASA.

While researchers aren’t sure what process took place to create the canyons on Titan’s surface, they may have been formed like the Grand Canyon, with a river cutting deep into the surface as the terrain rose around it.

“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, co-author of the study, said in a statement.

The Cassini mission arrived in 2004 at Titan, a haze-shrouded moon of Saturn some 3,200 miles wide. Crusted with hydrocarbon ice and laced with lakes of liquid methane and ethane, Titan’s thick atmosphere has enticed scientists who view it as an example of conditions at the dawn of the solar system.

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