Strike-slip faulting, which is frequent along the well-known San Andreas Fault in California, Earth, may also occur on Titan, Saturn's most giant moon.

Planetary scientists from the University of Hawai'i's Mānoa School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology uploaded their study, titled "Strike-Slip Faulting on Titan: Modeling Tidal Stresses and Shear Failure Conditions Due to Pore Fluid Interactions," in journal Icarus.

A Concept Submarine May Explore Titan's Seas by the 2030s
(Photo: NASA)

About Tectonic Plates

IRIS Earthquake Science said plate tectonics, fueled by convection of the planet's partly molten interior, drive motion along Earth's faults. Our solar system restricts tectonic movements because most rocky things are too tiny to retain adequate heat. The lack of water and other liquids acting as a lubricant on Venus prevents huge crust portions from sliding along or over each other.

Variations in diurnal tidal stresses-the push and pull generated by the relative motion of the moon and its planet-are thought to be driving the motion along Titan's faults.

It is impossible to see Titan's surface directly due to its thick atmosphere. NASA's Cassini space mission used RADAR to survey Titan's topography in 2005. ESA, meanwhile, launched Huygens lander to the surface in 2006. The European spacecraft provided a few color photos from behind the cloud cover.

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A thick layer of rock-hard water ice covers Titan, NASA said. Titan is the only other planet known to have a thick atmosphere and liquids on its surface in lakes and oceans. Titan's liquids, on the other hand, are hydrocarbons like methane and ethane.

Lakes And Seas on Saturn Moon Titan

Liliane Burkhard, a doctorate candidate and graduate student researcher in the Department of Earth Sciences, and her co-authors evaluated the potential of strike-slip tectonics using physics-based faulting models. The tidal load on Titan, the orientations of potential faults, crustal characteristics (including pore fluid pressure), and the stress required to cause the surface material to break or fracture are all factored into the model calculations.

In a statement, the researchers discovered that shear failure for shallow faults on Titan is caused by a combination of diurnal tidal loads and pore fluid pressures. Furthermore, faults near the equator that strike east-west are well-positioned for failure.

Strike-slip faulting is now occurring on Titan, according to the researchers. On Titan, some channels cut into the icy bedrock by hydrocarbon rivers show an offset in their path along shear planes, similar to "beheaded channels" in the desert that looked like they were once part of the original canyon before earthquakes shoved them aside, which occur along the San Andreas Fault. The river is forced into a zig-zag pattern as the two pieces of bedrock slide along with each other. The river returns to a straight channel as soon as the movements along the faults stop. The persistence of observable zig-zag patterns in Titan's channels implies that tectonic action is still active.

Burkhard intends to further study the deformation of Titan and other ice moons in the future to learn more about their tectonic history and astrobiological consequences. Jupiter's moon, Europa is likewise thought to have plate tectonics, with huge ice plates floating in a massive interior ocean. However, it is unknown if the problems are still active.

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