In 2006, a NASA spacecraft flew near Saturn’s largest moon and found evidence of large bodies of liquid on the surface of this strange world. This shocking discovery means that the landscape on Titan is eerily similar to that on Earth; The two worlds are the only ones known to have rivers, lakes and seas on the surface.

However, Titan’s coastline is not as attractive as our own. Instead of water, the liquid passing through Titan is an unholy mixture of methane, ethane and other hydrocarbons. If that doesn’t sound stark enough, a new study suggests that waves of greenhouse gases could crash into the moon’s coast, shaping its wet landscape.

A team of geologists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology sought to solve the mystery of Titan’s beaches, and whether waves eroded the moon’s shores back to their current form. Using computer models, the researchers simulated the different types of erosion that could produce the beaches shown in the image Images taken by the Cassini mission Nearly 20 years ago.

“If we could stand at the edge of one of Titan’s seas, we might see waves of liquid methane and ethane splashing ashore and crashing onto coastlines during storms,” Taylor Perron, an MIT professor and co-author of the study, said in an email statement. On the erosion of the materials that make up the coast the findings It is published in the magazine Advancement of science.

Scientists have debated the presence of waves on Titan for years, with some arguing that the moon’s liquid bodies are mirror-smooth while others saw rough shorelines. Instead of looking at images to see if Titan is hosting waves, researchers in the new study looked at the shape of the coastline to try to figure out what might have eroded it.

The researchers simulated a sea with flooded river valleys around its edges, and ran it through three scenarios: no coastal erosion, wave-induced erosion, and uniform erosion in which the liquid passively dissolves the coastal material over time as it gradually slides under its own weight.

“We had the same coastal starting lines, and we saw that you get a completely different finish with uniform erosion versus wave erosion,” Perron said. “They’re all like a flying spaghetti monster because of the flooded river valleys, but the two types of erosion produce very different endpoints.”

The team mapped the shorelines of each of Titan’s seas using Cassini radar images, and applied their models to each seashore. All four seas were found to fit the wave erosion model as the most likely mechanism to explain their shape. “We can say, based on our results, that if the coasts of Titan’s seas are eroding, waves are the most likely cause,” Perron said.

Researchers are now preparing to look at Titan’s winds, and study how powerful they are to create waves powerful enough to drift off the coast of the moon.

“Titan presents this case for a completely untouched system,” Rose Palermo, a former MIT graduate student and USGS research geologist, and lead author of the study, said in the statement. “This could help us learn more fundamental things about how coastlines erode without human influence, and perhaps help us manage our coastlines on Earth better in the future.”

more: New images show Saturn’s moon Titan in stunning detail

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