Some of Saturn Moon Titan's Methane Lakes May Sit in 'Explosion Craters'

Space.com | 9/9/2019 | Mike Wall
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Some of the lakes on Saturn's huge moon Titan may sit in craters blasted out by liquid-nitrogen bombs, a new study suggests.

A leading theory of Titan-lake formation posits that many of these bodies were carved by liquid methane, which dissolved the moon's bedrock of water ice and organic compounds. This process is known to occur in places here on Earth where water eats through limestone substrate, forming "karstic lakes."

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But some of the smaller lakes — ones measuring just tens of miles across — near Titan's north pole have steep sides with tall rims that reach high into the moon's sky, radar imagery by NASA's Cassini spacecraft has shown. That profile doesn't fit the karstic model, authors of the new study said.

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"The rim goes up, and the karst process works in the opposite way," lead author Giuseppe Mitri, of Italy's G. d'Annunzio University, said in a statement.

"We were not finding any explanation that fit with a karstic lake basin," Mitri added. "In reality, the morphology was more consistent with an explosion crater, where the rim is formed by the ejected material from the crater interior. It's totally a different process."

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Mitri and his colleagues may have figured out what this process is, they report in the new study, which was published today (Sept. 9) in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Though Titan is extremely chilly today, with average surface temperatures around minus 290 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 179 degrees Celsius), the moon has been even colder in the past.

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Scientists think that the moon has gone through warming and cooling periods over the last billion years or so, as levels of atmospheric methane...
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