NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has captured the first image of a 200-mile-long river on Titan, on of the Saturn’s orbiting moons.
According to The Space Reporter, this liquid river is the first observed on another planetary body. The river stretches more than 200 miles (400 kilometers) from its headwaters to a large sea.
NASA scientists used Cassini’s radar imaging instruments to determine that the strange geological feature is likely a river.
The scientists came to the conclusion that it was a river because of the dark, smooth surface within the meanders and channel that suggested the presence of a liquid.
According to NASA, the radar image that details Titan’s north polar region was taken on September 26, 2012. The north polar region is where the river valley flows into Kraken Mare, a sea that is similar in size to the Caspian Sea and the Mediterranean Sea.
NASA astronomers say that the river system could help provide them with a better understanding of Saturn’s fractured surface
Jani Radebaugh, Cassini radar team associate at Brigham Young University said:
“Though there are some short, local meanders, the relative straightness of the river valley suggests it follows the trace of at least one fault, similar to other large rivers running into the southern margin of this same Titan sea. Such faults — fractures in Titan’s bedrock — may not imply plate tectonics, like on Earth, but still lead to the opening of basins and perhaps to the formation of the giant seas themselves.”
Astronomers have long thought that Titan could serve as a hotbed for microscopic lifeforms.
According to NASA, Titan is the only other world we know of that has stable liquid on its surface. And while Earth’s hydrologic cycle relies on water, Titan’s cycle involves hydrocarbons such as ethane and methane.
Steve Wall, the radar deputy team lead, said:
“Titan is the only place we’ve found besides Earth that has a liquid in continuous movement on its surface. This picture gives us a snapshot of a world in motion. Rain falls, and rivers move that rain to lakes and seas, where evaporation starts the cycle all over again. On Earth, the liquid is water; on Titan, it’s methane; but on both it affects most everything that happens.”