A new discovery of the composition of the largest moon of Saturn has been made regarding Titan. Beaten only by Jupiter’s Ganymede, Titan is the second largest moon that can be found within the solar system and is the only moon to display a dense atmosphere. Now added to the list of descriptions and credits, sand dunes have been found on this moon.
When studying recent images of Titan, sand dunes have been noted. These sand dunes can be compared to the ones that can be located throughout the planet, Earth. The photos have come from explorations conducted by the Cassini spacecraft, which passed by the moon in October. Only recently released, sand dunes can be seen positioned close to Titan’s equator, which share a likeness to those found within the Sahara.
Scientists, professors and researchers are baffled by this discovery, acknowledging the find as quite strange. A representative from the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory compared Titan’s sand dune to those that can be found in radar printouts of the Arabia or Namibia. So why is it so odd that sand dunes are found on Titan? For starters, wind is a result of the differences in heat that come from the Sun. This is what happens on Earth. For years, it was believed that Titan was positioned too far from the Sun to experience any winds created from solar energy, at least not strong enough to create sand dunes.
Recent finds have been recorded regarding the power of gravity, which affects Saturn and creates tidal influences on the atmosphere of Titan. This tidal energy can be compared to the power that the Moon possesses over the oceans on Earth. The only difference is that this tidal force affecting Saturn is measured as being 400 times greater. The surface winds on Titan are affected where sand dunes appear, sometimes amounting to 330 feet in the air.
These new released images prove that the sand dunes were created from winds that flowed in one direction before switching directions. It is the tides that cause wind to change directions. The changing of directions creates a back-and-forth pattern that allows the build-up of sand dunes, which feature lengthy parallel lines.
When examining the dunes, the impact of these tidal winds can further reveal interesting details about the moon and its surface, including the theory of the formation of a “dark belt” on Titan.
So, where did the sand come from? It is thought that the sand on Titan may have originated from the downpour of liquid methane that broke down pieces of ice bedrock. The rainfall on Titan is infrequent, but during rainstorms, there are more than a few drops that fall. A theory of flash floods creating sand has also been mulled over. Another theory for the creation of the sand on Titan involves organic solids, Titan’s atmosphere and photochemical reactions. Studying the surface of Titan is important because the more information that is gathered can aid in future visits to the moon.