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Saturn’s Moon Titan Has Canyons Full Of Liquid Methane

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Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, has presented NASA scientists with the startling discovery that its surface has massive canyons filled with liquid methane, the Los Angeles Times reports.

On Earth, it was water that eroded rocks to create the majestic Grand Canyon and similar formations, but it turns out liquid methane has been doing the same on Titan.

Titan is bigger than dwarf planet Pluto, has a larger diameter than Mercury, and has the second-thickest atmosphere among the solar system’s rocky planets. Scientists have found proof of lakes and seas near the moon’s poles, making it one of the few rocky worlds in the solar system to have liquid formations on its surface, the difference being the liquid is methane, not water.

NASA has called the find remarkable, especially in how similar the moon’s erosion process is to Earth’s.

Data from spacecraft Cassini allowed scientists to determine that some of these canyons were 2,000 feet deep, according to a statement from NASA.

Scientists have known that Titan held huge amounts of liquid methane, but this is the first evidence of the liquid filling channels. Titan is often considered as the closest to Earth in terms of its atmosphere, lakes, and rivers, but freezing temperatures make liquid water impossible.

Methane, however, exists in liquid form on Titan’s surface and would evaporate if temperatures were just a bit warmer.

Scientists identified the methane-filled canyons by spotting areas darker than the higher surfaces that showed. Unsure of whether these dark areas were due to methane or shadows, the scientists bounced radio signals off Titan’s surface, which led them to the conclusion that methane likely caused these shapes.

Valerio Poggiali, lead author on the study and a Cassini radar team associate from the University of Rome, says, “It’s likely that a combination of these forces contributed to the formation of the deep canyons, but at present it’s not clear to what degree each was involved. What is clear is that any description of Titan’s geological evolution needs to be able to explain how the canyons got there.”

The study was published in Geophysical Research Letters.

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