The discovery represents the first direct evidence of the presence of liquid-filled channels on Saturn's largest moon Titan.
NASA’s Cassini spacecraft continues to explore Saturn, its rings and its moon as it has since 2004.
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The spacecraft has made many remarkable discoveries over the years such as finding few new moons for Saturn, discovering liquid water on Enceladus or tracking down a giant methane lake on Titan. Now, Cassini has just found a deep, steep-sided canyon on Titan flooded with hyderocarbons, providing the first direct evidence of liquid filled channels on Saturn’s largest moon Titan.
Titan has a rich atmosphere and surface chemistry which makes it a prime target for research in outer space and finding a liquid hydrocarbon filled canyons reinforces the fact that the moon is still not fully explored.
Cassini's observations reveal that newly discovered channels are quite deep. A network named Vid Flumina, in particular, is the deepest observed on Titan while generally these channels can dip to a level of 1,870 feet when measure from top to bottom.
Cassini’s radar was used to peer through the dense haze surrounding Titan and to see the surface below. Not only did the radar helped researchers to discover those liquid channels but also allow them to measure how deep they extend.
However, researchers are unable to determine what has caused those narrow, steep slopes but they believe whatever process created those channels was active for a long enough time to develop them on Titan’s surface.
“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.” Valerio Poggiali, a member of Cassini radar team and lead author of the study said.
Researchers suggest the canyons discovered on Titan’s surface are similar to those found on Earth like famous Grand Canyon carved by Colorado River in the state of Arizona.
Co-author Alex Hayes says. “Earth is warm and rocky, with rivers of water, while Titan is cold and icy, with rivers of methane. And yet it's remarkable that we find such similar features on both worlds.”
Researchers are planning to use other techniques to study Titan canyons and are hoping to better understand the forces that have shaped the Saturnian moon's landscape.