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Tectonics like the San Andreas Fault discovered on Saturn’s moon Titan

Titan’s eccentricity causes fluctuations in the tidal force of gravity. Credits: Burkhard, et al 2021

A strike-slip fault, a type of movement common to California’s famous San Andreas Fault, was recently reported to occur on Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. A new study led by a planetary scientist at the University of Hawaii at Manoa School of Marine Earth Science and Technology (SOEST) suggests that this crustal movement can become active in Titan and deform the surface of the ice.


In several oceanariums, such as Jupiter’s Europa and Saturn’s Enceladus, the representation of strike-moving faults is well documented. Researchers believe that the movement along these faults is caused by fluctuations in the diurnal tidal stress of push and pull caused by the relative movement of the Moon and its planets.

Surface lake and sea

Titan has a thick crust made of hard water ice. And Titan is the only non-Earth location known to have lake- and sea-shaped liquids on its surface. However, Titan’s liquids are hydrocarbons such as methane and ethane.

Due to the limited observation data available, Liliane Burkhard, PhD candidate A graduate student researcher in the Department of Earth Sciences at SOEST, the co-author explored the potential of strike-moving tectonics using a physics-based fault model. The model calculations take into account Titan’s tidal stress, candidate fault orientation, crustal properties (including pore water pressure), and the stress required to cause surface material breakage or cracking.

Tectonics like the San Andreas Fault discovered on Saturn's moon Titan

Possible slip directions at (a) Titan and (b) San Andreas Fault. Credit: Burkhard et al. (2021).Credits: University of Hawaii at Manoa

“Titan is unique because it is the only known satellite that has a stable liquid on its surface,” Burkhard said. “Therefore, we were able to discuss integrating pore fluid pressure into the calculations, which could reduce the shear strength of the ice crust and play an important role in Titan’s structural evolution. there is.”

In this new study, scientists found that the combination of diurnal tidal stress and pore fluid pressure promotes shear failure in Titan’s shallow faults. In addition, the faults near the equator that occur near east and west are oriented optimally for potential obstacles.

“This is an exciting revelation,” Burkhard said. “Our results are that under these conditions, not only shear failure can occur, but also a vigorous deformation mechanism on the surface and underground of Titan, the underground liquid rises. It suggests that it may serve as a route. Water surface.. This may facilitate the transport of substances that may affect habitability. “

Future mission

In the future, Burkhard hopes to further study the deformation of Titan and other ice satellites to clarify their structural history and astrobiology implications. Several remote sensing missions will be launched within the next few years to investigate Ganymede (ESA JUICE, 2022), Europa (NASA Clipper, 2024), and Titan (NASA Dragonfly, 2027). ..

“The combination of new observations and modeling techniques will give us a better understanding of the ice crust and identify the best location for future lander missions and, in some cases, exploration with access to the inland sea,” she adds. I did.


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For more information:
Liliane ML Burkhard et al, Titan strike-slip fault: Modeling of tidal stress and shear failure conditions due to pore fluid interaction, Icarus (2021). DOI: 10.1016 / j.icarus.2021.114700

Quote: Tectonics like the San Andreas Fault discovered in Saturn Moon Titan (October 14, 2021) https: //phys.org/news/2021-10-san-andreas-fault-like-tectonics-saturn Obtained from .html on October 14, 2021

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Tectonics like the San Andreas Fault discovered on Saturn’s moon Titan

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