Stretching more than 200 miles from its headwaters toward a large and mysterious sea, this river probably looks very familiar. But it is not the Nile. It is an as-yet-unnamed river on Titan, Saturn's largest moon.
This picture marks the first time scientists have seen a river system that is so vast, and in such high resolution, anywhere other than our own planet. It's an incredible image--it has Earth-like meanders, oxbows, and general curvature, indicating it follows the trace of a fault line. This doesn't necessarily mean Titan has plate tectonics like Earth does, but there are enough fractures in its bedrock to help form large basins--and maybe even huge seas. The real Nile, which flows about 4,100 miles, also follows fault lines in some places.
The Titan river is filled with liquid hydrocarbons, which scientists can tell because it appears dark throughout its length. This indicates it has a smooth surface.
Titan is the only other place in our solar system with a hydrologic cycle. Instead of water, it has liquid methane and ethane. It rains methane on Titan, and there are lakes made of ethane--the only other place where liquid exists in a stable form. Many planetary geologists would love to visit this liquidy world, but NASA recently declined to fund a pretty advanced plan to send a boat there and float it in the liquid hydrocarbon sea. That project could still live to see another day, however.
The image is from NASA's Cassini spacecraft, which has been traveling through the Saturn system for many years now, snapping some of the most incredible imagery in our solar neighborhood. Cassini snapped the image in September. It shows Titan's north polar region and a river valley flowing into Kraken Mare, a sea that is between the Caspian and Mediterranean in terms of size.
Cosmic rivers of COOL!
Methane and ethane wouldn't need oxygen to ignite, correct? So that means that if we sent a probe to Titan to land in its Methane sea, and the boat produced some kind static electric spark would Titan go down in a blaze of glory?
Many people have probably asked that same question. What is or would keep the planet from exploding. If it has rain, then it surely has clouds. If it has clouds, then surely there would be some kind of static discharge.
Even with the enormity of the planet it orbits, it must have encountered some kind of meteror shower or asteroid in its lifetime that would have provided the thermoenergy for ignition. Any detection of an asteroid impact on the surface would be an interesting find.
The large presence of hydrocarbons would be so much greater than any oxygen present that what's left of the oxygen long ago was tied up in the hydrocarbons themselves and so no oxygen to burn the fuels at the current time. It would be interesting though what would happen if a comet hit the moon--would the oxygen on the comet make the whole moon go boom?
@Code1032 "Methane and ethane wouldn't need oxygen to ignite, correct?"
Sorry, combustion requires oxygen. Also, 98% of Titan's atmosphere is nitrogen, which is inert. So, no danger of explosions there.
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@democedes, Helium is also inert, but that hasn't stopped the sun from shining.
Cosmic Rivers only prove the fact that religion is flawed in a sense that we as a country produce a surplus of bibles which is not even bought on the market.
@All4it "Helium is also inert, but that hasn't stopped the sun from shining."
This would be relevant if the sun shine was caused by combustion. Which it is not.
How cute, I have copied.
Just so you know 69, those are "YOUR" comments.
Interesting, but as mentioned elsewhere - there isn't enough O2 on Titan to burn.
As for using it as jet fuel, again, you would still need O2.
Still, if you seperated it into base Carbon and Hydrogen it could be useful for space habites as a resource (add O2 to produce CO2 and H2O to promote plant life in your green bays or simply split it to produce bulk Carbon for life or construction and H2 which can be expelled at pressure as propellant).
I hope, with all that's right in universe; that when they send a probe they will find a huge, bad-ass jelly fish that lives in that environment comfortably....even better if we found that it can breathe blue fire!
If at first, the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.
However, I suppose it is the abundance of COOL, which creates this cosmic river.