Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, is once again surprising scientists. Research already showed that it has a dense atmosphere. Also, the moon is the only space body besides earth to present clear traces of stable bodies of liquid on its surface. Now, a new paper found yet another unique element. Titan may have ‘electric sand’.
Titan And Its Interesting Sandy Dunes
The new research on this ‘planet-like’ moon was carried out by Georgia Institute of Technology researcher. They also collaborated with several other institutions, including NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, and Cornell University scientists. Study results were published in the Nature Geosciences journal. The paper is titled “Electrification of Sand on Titan and its influence on Sediment Transport”.
Research already believes that Titan may have “fizzy” lakes of hydrocarbon or perhaps even methane “waterfalls”. Now, this paper claims that the moon’s sands may have electrical properties. More exactly, the research team considers that Titan’s sands can become electrically charged.
A significant part of the moon, especially around its Equator, is covered in dunes. These are similar to our planet’s own such formations that can be found in deserts. Nonetheless, these two formations have a different composition. Instead of silicate, like on Earth, Titan’s dunes may be composed of sand. This, for its part, may be coated with hydrocarbon as this latter fell from the moon’s atmosphere.
If the wind blows hard enough, with around 15 mph, for example, the sand could reportedly get stuck together or attach it to other surfaces. Also, they can become resistant to further exterior motions. The ‘electric’ sand seems to be able to maintain this charge for several days or even months.
Researchers Had To Replicate The Conditions On Titan In Order To Reach The Following Conclusions
The team initiated its study by replicating the conditions on Titan in a lab. They placed grains of biphenyl and naphthalene in a special chamber. This replicated Titan’s surface conditions. The researchers used this method in order to study the moon’s particle flow. After the grains were introduced in the room, they were also ground for some 20 minutes in a cylindrical tube.
Following this step, the team noted that the resulting grains were electrically charged. They were also resistant to motion, both the free clumps and the ones stuck to a surface. The same thing could happen on Titan itself. As wind stirs the sands, these could start bumping into one another. Through this friction, they would also gain an electric charge, and then start clumping together.
Titan’s dunes can reach even 300 feet in length. They can also expand several hundreds of miles in length. As researchers have been analyzing them, the current study team pointed out the following.
“Titan’s extreme physical environment requires scientists to think differently about what we’ve learned of Earth’s granular dynamics.”
As such, the team changed its approach as it tries to determine the differences between the dunes and sand from Titan and the ones here, on Earth.
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