After landing the Huygens probe on Saturns largest moon, Titan, in 2005, the Cassini orbiter has been hanging around the neighbourhood taking some stunning images of a strangely familar world. The latest images come via the orbiter’s radar instrument and there’s a JPLnews video to accompany the press release.
From the JPL News press release.
Karst terrain on Earth occurs when water dissolves layers of bedrock, leaving dramatic rock outcroppings and sinkholes. Comparing images of White Canyon in Utah, the Darai Hills of Papua New Guinea, and Guangxi Province in China to an area of connected valleys and ridges on Titan known as Sikun Labyrinthus yields eerie similarities. The materials may be different – liquid methane and ethane on Titan instead of water, and probably some slurry of organic molecules on Titan instead of rock – but the processes are likely quite similar.
“Even though Titan is an alien world with much lower temperatures, we keep learning how many similarities there are to Earth,” said Karl Mitchell, a Cassini radar team associate at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “The karst-like landscape suggests there is a lot happening right now under the surface that we can’t see.”
Indeed, Mitchell said, if the karst landscape on Titan is consistent with Earth’s, there could very well be caves under the Titan surface.
Work on these analogies was spearheaded by Mike Malaska of Chapel Hill, N.C., an organic chemist by trade and a contributor in his spare time to unmannedspaceflight.com, a Web site for amateur space enthusiasts to try their hand at visualizing NASA data. Malaska approached radar team member Jani Radebaugh at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, about collaborative work after meeting her at last year’s Lunar and Planetary Science Conference.