NASA's Cassini Spacecraft Finds Deep, Steep-Sided, Liquid-Hydrocarbons Flooded Canyons on Saturn's moon Titan

NASA's Cassini Spacecraft Finds Deep, Steep-Sided, Liquid-Hydrocarbons Flooded Canyons on Saturn's moon Titan

NASA's Cassini spacecraft has discovered deep, steep-sided canyons flooded with liquid hydrocarbons on Saturn's moon Titan. The discovery has represented the first clear proof of the liquid-filled channels’ presence on Titan, and the first ever sighting of hundreds of meters deep canyons.

Published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, a latest paper has described how scientists studied Cassini data when the spacecraft had a close pass by over Titan in May 2013. At the time of the flyby, Cassini's radar instrument was dedicated on channels branching out from the huge, northern sea Ligeia Mare.

According to the Cassini observations, the channels particularly a network of them dubbed Vid Flumina were narrow canyons, below half a mile wide, having slopes steeper than 40 degrees. The canyons were also very deep, with the measured ones 790 to 1,870 feet in height.

The branching channels look dark in radar pictures, quite like Titan's seas rich in methane. This indicated scientists that the channels could also be packed with liquid, but so far no direct discovery has been made. Earlier, it wasn’t clear whether the dark material was liquid or barely saturated sediment, which at the frigid temperatures of Titan would be composed of ice, not rock.

Generally, Cassini's radar is used as an imager, offering a window to look into the dense haze surrounding Titan to expose the surface below. But at the time of this flyby, the radar served as an altimeter, beaming pings of radio waves to the surface of the moon to calculate the height of features there. Researchers made their discovery combining the altimetry data and past radar pictures of the area.

They were able to understand the nature of the channels through the way Cassini's radar signal reflected off the features’ bottoms.


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