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Saturn's moon Titan had swamps, say astroboffins

Splashdown patterns suggest space rocks landed in something squishy

A Cassini image of the polar hydrocarbon lakes of Titan

Titan, the moon of Saturn often present at the top of candidate lists for life-bearing bodies in our near neighbourhood, may once have housed extensive swamps.

So say boffins from the Florida Institute of Technology and The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, who have popped out a paper titled ”Elevation distribution of Titan’s craters suggests extensive wetlands in which they suggest that the moon's craters are at unusually high elevations.

Titan is also famously smooth. It is peppered with craters like other celestial bodies, but those craters look rather more rounded and/or weathered than those on other planets and moons. Large swathes of the moon are also largely free of craters.

The paper suggests the moon's unusual crater patterns could be a result of having once housed extensive swamps that, when struck by incoming space rocks, would have produced differently-shaped craters than those on other planets and moons.

“Impacts into a shallow marine environment or a saturated layer of sediments more than several hundred meters thick would produce crater morphologies similar to terrestrial submarine impacts,” the paper suggests. “These are known to lack significant topographic expression”.

Another possibility is that the moon had swamps and enough liquid flowing about to move sediments into craters, rounding them out over time.

Whatever the reason for Titan's gentle craters, they would have been nasty: the boffins say they would have been filled with liquid hydrocarbons, possibly the polypropylene spotted there a couple of months back. ®

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