New Research Shows How The Beautifully Windswept Dunes Evolved On Saturn’s Moon Titan

NASAAP Images

A new study has just been conducted on the giant dunes that can be found on Saturn’s largest moon Titan, with research revealing that these magnificent dunes would have been created in a very similar way to ones that are found here on Earth.

The surface of Titan is complex and much like Earth, and on it can be found not only dunes but also mountains, lakes, canyons, and valleys, which are partly the product of the moon’s weather with its sometimes intense liquid hydrocarbons like methane rain, as Phys.org report.

Scientists also discovered in their new study that Titan’s dunes go on even further than had been previously thought, with research determining that the dunes continue for over one million square miles beyond where they had been thought to end.

The Institute of Planetary Research’s Jeremy Brossier, head author of the new research on Saturn’s moon, explained that scientists now have “very strong evidence” that water ice almost certainly played a role in the formation of Titan’s dunes.

“One of the most debated topics was the arrangement of water ice on Titan’s equator. We not only found signatures compatible with water ice in a few areas in this study, we also showed that we now have the techniques needed to understand Titan’s surface.”

To truly understand the geological processes behind the formation of the dunes on Titan, scientists used a tool known as VIMS, which was able to take images much like a camera would.

However, in the case of VIMS, there are 352 different colors involved and the wavelengths of light can be measured at an astonishing 300 to 5100 nanometers. This is quite an improvement on our eyes alone, which are only able to measure up to 620 nanometers at the very most.

Featured image credit: NASAAP Images

After analyzing the vivid pictures created by VIMS, scientists suggested that the dunes on Titan were formed through a process that most likely started close to the top of the equatorial mountain ranges on Saturn’s moon.

This makes sense when you consider that the atmosphere of Titan dispenses small amounts of organic material containing tholins which continue to add up over time until the surface is extremely layered.

As heavy rains of methane slowly cause the mountains on Titan to erode, pieces of ice and tholins eventually flow down into valleys where they form in large amounts. Afterward, the winds on Saturn’s moon blow the tiniest grains of this mixture toward the area of the dune plains, where these dunes continue to grow exponentially.

The new study describing how the dunes of Titan were formed can be read in the Journal of Geophysical Research.