Help Shape the Future of Space Exploration

Join The Planetary Society Now  arrow.png

Join our eNewsletter for updates & action alerts

    Please leave this field empty
Blogs

Headshot of Emily Lakdawalla

When Titan's Winds Blow, Mountains Move

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla

20-03-2008 18:09 CDT

Topics:

I'm particularly proud of the melodramatic title I came up with for this news story: "When Titan's Winds Blow, Mountains Move." Most news outlets are reporting the major news from this story as being that Titan has an ocean. It's true that this study is important for providing empirical evidence that Titan has an ocean, but the fact that it does wouldn't be a huge surprise to anybody who studies the moons of the outer solar system. The news here is that Titan's crust doesn't rotate synchronously -- it's totally decoupled from the interior, sliding around on that subsurface liquid ocean. The ocean acts as a lubricant, separating the solid core physically from the solid crust, so you have the whole spherical shell of the solid crust able to move separately from the interior. It's mind-boggling to think of the whole crust of a planet-sized world sliding around separately from its core. This has actually been proposed to happen for many places in the solar system, to explain things like polar wander, but on Titan it apparently happens really fast. Usually, geophysicists employ gravitational or tidal torques to explain this kind of crustal motion. But on Titan, the atmosphere is such a heavy hitter that its motion can actually blow the crust around by enough that Cassini was able to observe the crust move away from the simplistically predicted rotation rate by tens of kilometers over only 20 months. Wow.

Many thanks to several scientists at different institutions who answered their phones and took the time to explain the story to me so I could post it so quickly!

 
See other posts from March 2008

 

Or read more blog entries about:

Comments:

Leave a Comment:

You must be logged in to submit a comment. Log in now.
Facebook Twitter Email RSS AddThis

Blog Search

JOIN THE
PLANETARY SOCIETY

Our Curiosity Knows No Bounds!

Become a member of The Planetary Society and together we will create the future of space exploration.

Join Us

Featured Images

Orion's forward bay cover jettison

Astronaut’s-Eye View of NASA’s Orion Spacecraft Re-entry
A shift in shadows for Yutu, December 19(?), 2013
Yutu heads south, December 22, 2013
More Images

Featured Video

View Larger »

Space in Images

Pretty pictures and
awe-inspiring science.

See More

Join the New Millennium Committee

Let’s invent the future together!

Become a Member

Connect With Us

Facebook! Twitter! Google+ and more…
Continue the conversation with our online community!