Signs Of San Andreas Fault-Like Tectonics Discovered On Saturn Moon Titan

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New research suggests that strike-slip faulting, the type of motion common along the well-known San Andreas Fault, California, possibly occurs also on Titan, Saturn's largest moon.
The Carrizo Plains provides good visibility of the San Andreas Fault in southern California. getty

New research, led by planetary scientists from the Mānoa School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, University of Hawai'i, suggests that strike-slip faulting, the type of motion common along the well-known San Andreas Fault, California, Earth, possibly occurs also on Titan, Saturn's largest moon.

On Earth, the motion along faults is driven by plate tectonics, powered by convection of the planet's partially molten interior. As most rocky bodies in our solar system are too small to keep enough heat, tectonic movements there are very limited. On Venus, approximately Earth-sized, the lack of water or any other liquids acting as a lubricant prevents large segments of the crust from sliding along or above each other.

Researchers believe the motion along the faults on Titan is driven by variations in diurnal tidal stresses—the push and pull caused by the relative motion of the moon and its planet.

Because of the dense atmosphere, it is not possible to observe Titan's surface directly. In 2005, NASA's Cassini space probe mapped Titan's terrain thanks to RADAR and sent ESA's Huygens lander to the surface, providing a few color images from beneath the cloud cover.

Titan has a thick crust made of rock-hard water ice. And Titan is the only place besides Earth known to have a dense atmosphere and liquids in the form of…
David Bressan
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