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Scientists Map Seaside Terrain at Titan's North Pole

Science Graphic of the Week Scientists Map Seaside Terrain at Titan s North Pole WIRED


The map, presented Dec. 15 here at the American Geophysical Union meeting, defines four different major regions according to colors: orange, dark green, and yellow for plains, pale green for small depressions, blue for seas, and pink for ridge and valley networks. Radar imagery of the same area is seen on the right.

Titan is a cold place, with surface temperatures averaging -300 degrees Fahrenheit. Its lakes and rivers and seas carry not water, which would be frozen hard as a rock on the surface, but liquid hydrocarbons like methane and ethane. Most of this liquid pools at the moon’s north pole, where enormous seas known as mare dominate the landscape. In contrast, the south pole is a relatively dry place, with a few small lakes and many giant basins, likely the remnants of ancient Titanean seas. Scientists think that long term cycles analogous to Earth’s Milankovitch cycles—where changes in our planet’s axial tilt have caused glaciers to advance and retreat—move large amounts of liquid from pole to pole roughly every 50,000 years.

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-300 degrees Fahrenheit is really, really cold!

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