Saturn’s largest moon called Titan is known for its massive dunes. The dunes that spread across the massive moon are some of the most spectacular, and interesting physical characteristics. Some of those characteristics are even shared here on Earth. In fact, many researchers have wondered what formed those dunes, and now some answers might finally be here. Scientists believe that the dunes were formed, and are constantly shaped by short and abrupt winds that are so unpredictable they’re classified as “rogue winds.”
Many of the dunes stand as tall as 300 feet – yet they seem to form opposite to the traditional winds on the moon. This raises new questions because Titan typically has a steady east-to-west wind – but the rogue winds blow the opposite direction and are ultimately responsible for forming the dunes that stand taller than many city buildings. Devon Burr – who is a planetary scientists at the University of Tennessee pointed out that “this work highlights the fact that the winds that blow 95% of the time might have no effect on what we see.”
The scientists found that the east-to-west winds aren’t strong enough to move the material that is found on the surface of Titan. It isn’t the same sandy material that is found in the various deserts across Earth – but behave somewhat similarly in comparison to how the planet operates. Scientists noted that the winds “occasionally reverse direction and dramatically increase in intensity due to the changing position of the Sun in the sky,” and that this is ultimately a matter of long-term work of the wind. Ultimately, scientists believe that most of what is seen today on Saturn’s moon, Titan, formed over 90,000 Earth years.
Now though scientists can use Titan, as well as a model here on Earth to apply this to the bigger picture. Understanding that large scale climate changes, and large scale climate patterns can be traced and tracked through observing what is happening with dunes, is just one area where scientists are beginning to look more closely.
The team noted that this is important due to the implications or similarities here on Earth. For example, the sediment that is in the Sahara desert moves over the Atlantic and is partially responsible for developing parts of South America. John Marshall of the SETI Institute pointed out that “we see today sediment being wafted over the Sahara desert, across the Atlantic to South America. This wind-blown material accounts for much of the fertility of the Amazon Basin,” furthering the importance here on Earth of this research.