How Did Lakes Form on Titan’s Surface?

posted: 06/22/15
by: Discovery.com Staff
Lakes on Titan

To be the best of our knowledge, Saturn's moon Titan is the only body in the solar system (besides Earth, of course) with surface lakes. New information from the Cassini spacecraft is helping us better understand exactly how and why these bodies of liquid formed -- and surprisingly, they seem to be very similar to formations on Earth.

According to researchers, Titan's lakes are reminiscent of karstic landforms that we have on Earth, which form when dissolvable rock (like limestone) erodes as groundwater and rainfall move through it, resulting in sinkhole-like depressions.

Liquid hydrocarbons on Titan play a similar role to water on Earth: the hydrocarbons have caused erosion of dissolvable rock, resulting in a vast network of lakes and river-like formations that carry liquid across the moon's surface. The large lakes stretch hundreds of miles across and several hundred feed deep.

"We compared the erosion rates of organics in liquid hydrocarbons on Titan with those of carbonate and evaporite minerals in liquid water on Earth," explains ESA's Thomas Cornet. "We found that the dissolution process occurs on Titan some 30 times slower than on Earth due to the longer length of Titan's year and the fact it only rains during Titan summer. Nonetheless, we believe that dissolution is a major cause of landscape evolution on Titan and could be the origin of its lakes."

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