Nav: Home

Nitrogen explosions created craters on Saturn moon Titan

September 10, 2019

ITHACA, N.Y. - Lakes of liquid methane on the surface of Titan, Saturn's largest moon, were likely formed by explosive, pressurized nitrogen just under the moon's surface, according to new research.

"Titan has very distinctive topography. Its lakes show different kinds of shapes and in some cases sharp ridges," said paper co-author Jonathan Lunine, professor of physical sciences at Cornell University.

An international team of scientists examined lakes on Titan's surface that featured steep, cratered sharp edges, raised rims and ramparts. Some of the steep ridges tower far above the moon's natural liquid sea level.

"You either need gas that ignites explosively or a gas that builds up enough pressure so that it just pops like a cork from a champagne bottle," Lunine said. "On Titan, there is nothing that will create a fiery explosion because that moon has no free oxygen. Thus, a pressurized explosion model, we argue, is a better model for those kinds of lakes. Craters are created and they fill with liquid methane."

Besides Earth, Titan is the only other body in the solar system with a stable liquid - in this case, methane - on its surface. Titan's atmosphere is filled with vaporized nitrogen.

In Titan's geophysical history, that moon has seen epochs where methane becomes depleted, leaving a nitrogen atmosphere. The nitrogen cools, producing nitrogen liquid rain in its frigid climate, which then collects in pockets under Titan's crust.

While Titan is far from the sun, a slight amount of geologic heating might occur that causes this pressurized gas to explode, popping out to the surface. In the moon's natural cycling process, liquid methane returns and fills the craters to make lakes.

Images for this research were gathered by the radar data from the NASA Cassini mission's last close flyby of Titan, just months before the spacecraft's final plunge into Saturn two years ago.
-end-
The research, "Possible Explosion Crater Origin of Small Lake Basins with Raised Rims on Titan," was published in Nature and the team was led by Giuseppe Mitri of Italy's d'Annunzio University.

For more information, see this Cornell Chronicle story.

Cornell University has dedicated television and audio studios available for media interviews supporting full HD, ISDN and web-based platforms.

Cornell University

Related Methane Articles:

Microorganisms reduce methane release from the ocean
Bacteria in the Pacific Ocean remove large amounts of the greenhouse gas methane.
Origin of massive methane reservoir identified
New research provides evidence of the formation and abundance of abiotic methane -- methane formed by chemical reactions that don't involve organic matter -- on Earth and shows how the gases could have a similar origin on other planets and moons, even those no longer home to liquid water.
Methane not released by wind on Mars, experts find
New study rules out wind erosion as the source of methane gas on Mars and moves a step closer to answering the question of whether life exists on other planets.
Unexpected culprit -- wetlands as source of methane
Knowing how emissions are created can help reduce them.
Methane-consuming bacteria could be the future of fuel
Northwestern University researchers have found that the enzyme responsible for the methane-methanol conversion in methanotrophic bacteria catalyzes the reaction at a site that contains just one copper ion.
New measurement method for radioactive methane
The method developed by Juho Karhu in his PhD thesis work is a first step towards creating a precise measuring device.
New key players in the methane cycle
Methane is not only a powerful greenhouse gas, but also a source of energy.
Diffusing the methane bomb: We can still make a difference
The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet, causing the carbon containing permafrost that has been frozen for tens or hundreds of thousands of years to thaw and release methane into the atmosphere, thereby contributing to global warming.
China not 'walking the walk' on methane emissions
In China, regulations to reduce methane emissions from coal mining took full effect in 2010 and required methane to be captured or to be converted into carbon dioxide.
Interpreting new findings of methane on Mars
New data from the Mars Science Laboratory demonstrating the presence of methane presents novel challenges to explain how it was formed and what it suggests about the potential for life to exist or be supported on Mars.
More Methane News and Methane Current Events

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2019.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

In & Out Of Love
We think of love as a mysterious, unknowable force. Something that happens to us. But what if we could control it? This hour, TED speakers on whether we can decide to fall in — and out of — love. Guests include writer Mandy Len Catron, biological anthropologist Helen Fisher, musician Dessa, One Love CEO Katie Hood, and psychologist Guy Winch.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#543 Give a Nerd a Gift
Yup, you guessed it... it's Science for the People's annual holiday episode that helps you figure out what sciency books and gifts to get that special nerd on your list. Or maybe you're looking to build up your reading list for the holiday break and a geeky Christmas sweater to wear to an upcoming party. Returning are pop-science power-readers John Dupuis and Joanne Manaster to dish on the best science books they read this past year. And Rachelle Saunders and Bethany Brookshire squee in delight over some truly delightful science-themed non-book objects for those whose bookshelves are already full. Since...
Now Playing: Radiolab

An Announcement from Radiolab