Titan is the only other object in the solar system that has lakes of liquid on its surface besides earth, notes CBS. Even though these lakes exist in the form of liquid methane and not water, we know that Saturn’s favorite moon has maintained its liquid surface through a methane cycle that’s similar to the water cycle on earth. Unfortunately, humans have never been able to determine what caused the lakes on Titan to appear in the first place.
Researchers have posited that many of Titan’s lakes were actually caused by explosions, not erosion as we once thought. Previously, it only made sense that Titan’s geology would follow a similar path as earth’s since any of earth’s lakes were the result of erosion.
From layers of lime rock ranging from 30 to 60 feet, it was natural that erosion would occur beneath the earth’s surface. When the holes grow too big, the earth would collapse and the resulting sinkholes would fill with water. But while these lakes are shaped into perfect circles from karstic erosion, the lakes on Titan have jagged edges and unique shapes.
In fact, most of Titan’s lakes are actually Sharp-Edged Depressions, known as SEDs. Upon further research, scientists noted that Titan’s geology simply doesn’t have the sufficient biological components necessary in order to make soil erosion possible. In fact, the only biological processes that occur on Titan only happen on the poles. While wood only needs three components to rot (water, oxygen, and warmth), this goes to show how desolate Titan’s soil truly is.
“The presence of raised rims in SED basins undermines the karst lake model for SEDs with raised rims,” explains the researchers. “According to the karst model, the lake basins on Titan should be produced as dolines formed by collapse, dissolution or subsidence of the terrain; such processes do not produce rims. While SEDs with raised rims are not formed by a karstic process, their presence in a karstic-like environment is not excluded.”
In fact, some of the rims reach hundreds of feet into the sky. As such, another theory was needed to determine the creation of these lakes.
The only logical answer? Nitrogen explosions.
While this idea may seem far-fetched, similar processes once happened on earth. For example, we experience steam explosions every day when seawater comes into contact with magma seeping up from the earth’s crust. But while we shouldn’t put more than four pounds of nitrogen on our lawns, Titan’s atmosphere was once almost exclusively nitrogen. The material built up around the lakes on Titan suggests that underground explosions could be the answer to these incredible ridges.
From geological research, scientists have found that titan goes through substantial periods of heating and cooling. During these periods of cooling, it’s thought that Titan’s atmosphere consists primarily of nitrogen. The newest idea is that built-up nitrogen needed to escape its aquifers when the atmosphere started to warm up again and methane became the predominant component on Titan’s atmosphere.
More research is needed to see if this new hypothesis holds water (or at least methane). Funding might take a little bit of time, too. While it might take up to 48 hours for a small business funding process, we’re talking research on a massive scale. In the meantime, this potential discovery can change the way we think about geologic processes on other planets — and their moons.