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Space & Astronomy

Mystery of Titan's sand dunes solved

By T.K. Randall
December 10, 2014 · Comment icon 7 comments

Titan shares many similarities with our own planet. Image Credit: NASA / JPL
Scientists have determined how huge sand dunes up to 300ft high managed to form on the Saturnian moon.
While the windswept dunes of Titan might seem remarkably like those we see on Earth, their origins are anything but familiar.

Scientists had long puzzled over how such huge dunes could have been formed in the opposite direction to the moon's prevailing east-to-west winds. Unlike on our own planet, these dunes are believed to be made from a strange viscous sand-like material made of hydrogen and carbon.

Former SETI Institute planetary scientist Devon Burr and his team used a special wind tunnel, one originally created to study the winds on Venus, to recreate the conditions found on Titan's surface.
What they found was that rather than building up continuously over time like the sand dunes on Earth, the dunes on Titan were produced by short, rapid bursts of strong wind.

A separate study also found that some of the largest dunes on Titan may have taken up to 3,000 Saturn years to form, the equivalent to 90,000 years here on Earth.

"This is somewhat similar to how some of Earth's sandy deserts have evolved," said geophysicist Ryan Ewing. "In parts of the Sahara Desert, for example, some of the largest dunes are thought to have formed around 25,000 years ago and these dune patterns are still visible."

Source: Fox News | Comments (7)




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Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #1 Posted by Atuke 10 years ago
Wonder what is buried under those dunes? Pyramids? The Sphinx? A hidden oracle? Time to send probes and rovers
Comment icon #2 Posted by Junior Chubb 10 years ago
Wonder what is buried under those dunes? Pyramids? The Sphinx? A hidden oracle? Time to send probes and rovers Ancient Aliens no doubt...
Comment icon #3 Posted by Peter B 10 years ago
From the article linked in the OP: The evolution of Titan's landscape is of interest to scientists partly because of the similarities between the satellite and Earth. Titan is the only moon in the solar system with an atmosphere, and the only other body besides Earth with liquid on its surface. But, Titan's lakes and oceans are made of methane and ethanol, not water. The researchers at the SETI Institute said in the statement that the study of how Titan's dunes form could have applications for understanding similar processes on Earth. "We see today sediment being wafted over the Sahara desert,... [More]
Comment icon #4 Posted by qxcontinuum 10 years ago
They need to stop guessing a send a probe on Titan. It is more likely to find life there than on Mars. I mean Titan is currently the only celestial body known to have a complex atmosphere and primitive alike Earth life conditions.
Comment icon #5 Posted by Twin 10 years ago
Life? Probably not.. Titan is as cold as Hell is hot.
Comment icon #6 Posted by CRYSiiSx2 10 years ago
Life as we k ow it? Probably not. But there is a lot we don't know.
Comment icon #7 Posted by Peter B 10 years ago
They need to stop guessing a send a probe on Titan. It is more likely to find life there than on Mars. I mean Titan is currently the only celestial body known to have a complex atmosphere and primitive alike Earth life conditions. And Jupiter's moon Europa and Saturn's moon Enceladus both almost certainly have massive under-ice oceans of liquid water laced with complex organic molecules. I agree that Titan's a better candidate for life now than Mars is, but I'd suggest that Europa and Enceladus are even better candidates.


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