Out in the far reaches of the Solar System, the Cassini Space Probe continues to send us mind-bogging images of Saturn and it’s moons. This latest was released by NASA just two days ago, a photograph which shows a massive river on Titan, Saturn’s appropriately-named largest moon. Already, Cassini confirmed the existence of a large, methane lake in Titan’s “tropical” region. But this latest find would seem to indicate the Titan is even more Earth-like than previously thought.
For example, the river is not only comparable in relative size and shape to the Nile here on Earth, it is also filled with a cold, hydrocarbon liquid (most likely ethane or methane). This is a historic find, since it is the first time images have revealed a river system this vast and in such high resolution anywhere beyond Earth. But of course, it’s what the river implies that has many scientists especially excited. For example, Jani Radebaugh, a Cassini radar team associate at Brigham Young University, USA, claims that the river may be an indication of plate tectonics:
“Though there are some short, local meanders, the relative straightness of the river valley suggests it follows the trace of at least one fault, similar to other large rivers running into the southern margin of this same Titan sea. Such faults – fractures in Titan’s bedrock – may not imply plate tectonics, like on Earth, but still lead to the opening of basins and perhaps to the formation of the giant seas themselves.”
In short, the river is another indication that Titan may be an early version of Earth. At one time, it is believed Earth’s own surface was covered with lakes that were much different in chemical composition than the one’s we know today. The process of change is what may have given rise to certain colonies of cell bacteria, which in turn created more complex organisms and eventually vertebrates. Intrinsic to all of this were shifts in the planet’s plates, which corresponded to several life-creating epochs in Earth’s history – the most notable being the “Cambrian Explosion”.
Naturally, there are plenty of difference between this “alien” river and it’s Earth-bound cousin too. For one, the Nile extends for a whopping 6,650 kilometers (4,132 miles), whereas Titan’s big river is roughly 400 km long. What’s more, Titan cycles hydrocarbons instead of water, as our life-friendly planet does. On top of all that, Titan is able to maintain these hydrocarbons in a liquid state because of its cold temperatures, much colder than what we enjoy here on the comparatively balmy Earth.
Source: Universe Today.com