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A River of Hydrocarbons Flowing on Titan

December 12, 2012


The Cassini spacecraft continues to return amazing images and data of Saturn and it’s moons. Here’s a new image of a river of liquid ethane/methane (~400 km long) on Titan. Amazing!

Here’s a description that goes with the image:

The river valley stretches more than 400 km from its ‘headwaters’ to a large sea, and likely contains hydrocarbons. The image was acquired on 26 September 2012, on Cassini’s 87th close flyby of Titan. The river valley crosses Titan’s north polar region and runs into Kraken Mare, one of the three great seas in the high northern latitudes of the moon.

Image credit: NASA/JPL–Caltech/ASI

11 Comments leave one →
  1. December 12, 2012 9:58 am

    Dumb questions: 1) Is there hydrocarbon “rain” on Titan? 2) Is there a hydrocarbon “groundwater” system on Titan? The title suggests motion (“flowing”) and the drainage pattern mimics erosion on Earth. How does the river system recharge at its “headwaters”? Do hydrocarbons erode rock in liquid form essentially the same way water does? What is the density of the hydrocarbon fluid/liquid relative to that of water at room temperature?

    Cool pic!

  2. December 12, 2012 10:03 am

    Carl … awesome questions. I haven’t studied this system but, yes, I think the hypothesis is that the hydrocarbons behave much like water here; that is, there’s a hydrological cycle with precipitation, overland flow, etc. I’ll try to dig up some more references.

  3. December 13, 2012 10:39 am

    Carl … it is cool stuff. I agree, the similarity in geomorphic expression given such different material is intriguing.

  4. May 31, 2013 6:45 am

    Hi Brian,
    Great blog! Talking about geomorphological similarities between Titan, Mars and Earth. There are some features called erosional shadow remnants on Earth (or comet marks on a more general term) that are very similar to tear-drop shaped islands located on the downstream end of outflow channels on Mars BUT the cool thing is that these features are also present on the hydrocarbon lakes of Titan! Really cool stuff. Check this reference if you want to read more about it: Burr (2011) Sedimentology in a reduced-gravity environment: Submarine analogs for streamlined forms on Mars.

    • May 31, 2013 6:46 am

      Maybe a good idea to include the complete reference! Burr (2011) Sedimentology in a reduced-gravity environment: Submarine analogs for streamlined forms on Mars: Geology, v.39, no. 7, p. 703-704


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