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The Dunes of Titan

Titan crescent moon

Titanic Landscape

Titan is one of the most interesting places in the solar system. Titan is Saturn's largest moon, and is bigger than the planet Mercury. It has an atmosphere that's a bit denser than Earth's. There are rivers, lakes, and rain, except it's so cold there that these are of liquid methane and ethane instead of water.

In 2014, a team of scientists published evidence that there are long term cycles in Titan's climate and winds over tens of thousands of years.

They studied huge fields of sand dunes discovered in Titan's equatorial regions. Here on Earth, scientists studying sand dunes in the Sahara desert have learned about winds as far back as the last ice age, 15,000 to 25,000 years ago. The Titan dunes were mapped by the radar on the Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn.

Sands of Time

Sand dunes on Titan are much different from the ones on Earth. The sand isn't made of tiny bits of rock; it's probably made of hydrocarbons and other organic soot. But the dunes are still similar in basic structure to those on Earth, Mars, and Venus.

Individual dunes can be hundreds of feet tall and stretch for tens of miles. Because they are big, they change slowly, and preserve a record of long term wind patterns.

So, by studying the dunes, planetary scientists can learn about the history of Titan's climate. That helps them gain a better understanding of climate generally, including Earth's climate.

Find Out More:

"Freak Fast Winds Created Titan's Massive, Mysterious Dunes" (Universe Today)

"New Study Offers Explanation For Titan Dune Puzzle" (Astrobiology Magazine)

"Scientists Research Surface Of the Titan Moon" (BBC Worldwide video)

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