Exploding nitrogen on Titan


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A new theory proposes that some of the smaller high rimmed methane lakes on Titan were formed when underground nitrogen warmed and exploded, forming the basin in which the methane ponded.

Most existing models that lay out the origin of Titan’s lakes show liquid methane dissolving the moon’s bedrock of ice and solid organic compounds, carving reservoirs that fill with the liquid. This may be the origin of a type of lake on Titan that has sharp boundaries. On Earth, bodies of water that formed similarly, by dissolving surrounding limestone, are known as karstic lakes.

The new, alternative models for some of the smaller lakes (tens of miles across) turns that theory upside down: It proposes pockets of liquid nitrogen in Titan’s crust warmed, turning into explosive gas that blew out craters, which then filled with liquid methane. The new theory explains why some of the smaller lakes near Titan’s north pole, like Winnipeg Lacus, appear in radar imaging to have very steep rims that tower above sea level – rims difficult to explain with the karstic model.

This is a theory that has merit. It also must be treated with skepticism, as our knowledge of Titan remains at this time very superficial, even with the more detailed information garnered from Cassini.

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2 comments

  • Patrick Underwood

    Wouldn’t an impact also produce a steep-sided depression with a raised rim?

  • Max

    I agree.
    a nitrogen explosion? When pressure builds up under ice, the ice cracks and the pressure is relieved. (for example, Europa is full of cracks) if there’s deep gouges from large chunks of ice spreading from the explosion for miles around in low gravity, then there may be evidence for the theory.
    A meteor impact on the other hand, would emit enough heat for days to melt/vaporize a large hole causing rivers of warm nitrogen to cut canyons, which would fill with liquid methane while the nitrogen refreezes at the nearest cold place making unusual formations.

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