Cassini Huygens – deep space probe of NASA has identified liquid-filled canyons on Titan – Saturn’s largest moon. Cassini was orbiting Saturn when it swung its camera towards Titan and made the surprising discovery. What Cassini found on Titan’s surface were canyons – deep and steep-sided. They stretched across the surface of the moon. What was surprising was that these canyons were not empty and dry. Deep down, they were filled with flowing streams of liquid hydrocarbons.
NASA scientists have named these canyons. They are being called the Vid Flumina. Scientists estimate that the liquid-filled canyons on Titan are anywhere between 800 feet and 1,800 feet deep. In terms of meters, that’s between 240 meters and 570 meters. The data sent over by Cassini Huygens has been published in the Geophysical Research Letters.
NASA scientists say that this is the first time they have directly detected and characterized liquid-filled canyons on Titan. According to them, if they can understand how these canyons came to existence, they can understand the current geomorphology of Titan and even understand its geological evolution and history.
Research that Led to Finding of Liquid-Filled Canyons on Titan
NASA installed the Cassini Huygens probe in Saturn’s orbit in 2004. Cassini’s mission was to gather data on the ringed giant and all her satellites. Once installed in Saturn’s orbit, the probe started gathering data. In 2014 Cassini had already discovered that Titan had liquid hydrocarbon lakes. Two years later, the probe found the liquid-filled canyons on Titan.
The new data gathered by Titan reveals one of the following two conditions:
- At some point in geological history of Titan, there was a rapid change in its sea levels. Or,
- At some point in geological history of Titan, massive tectonic activities forced the rocky and icy surface of Titan to rise significantly, giving birth to the canyons.
More About Liquid-Filled Canyons on Titan
Vid Flumina (the name given to the canyons identified on Titan) and Earth’s Grand Canyon have some similar hydrologic and geologic characteristics. These similarities are pretty striking, says Alex Hayes who is a member of the Cassini research team and also the co-author of the paper that was published in Geophysical Research Letters. According to Alex, who is from Cornell University, “On one hand Titan is ice and cold and has liquid methane-filled rivers and on the other hand, Earth is rocky and warm and has water-filled rivers. The two worlds are totally different and yet they share similar features.”
It is not that only the canyons are similar. Actually, Earth and Titan share other features which are very similar. Titan, just like Earth has mountain ranges, rivers, seas and dunes. There are seasons on Titan which are pretty similar to seasons on Earth. Both these celestial bodies have analogous water cycles.
You might be thinking, ‘Hey, if there are so many similarities, why can’t we live on Titan?’ Good question. But hey, did you know that Titan has temperatures of – 290.56 degrees Fahrenheit or –179.2 degrees Celsius? Also, did you know that Titan’s atmosphere is made of nitrogen and methane? Can you survive? Think again!
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