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Water Flow Gives Insights on Mars and Titan

19 May 2017, 19:25 UTC
Water Flow Gives Insights on Mars and Titan
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Maps of topography for Mars, Earth, and Titan overlain with the fluvial features used in the study. B.A. Black et al./ Science (2017)
It might seem intuitive that water always flows downhill. But that axiom provides important clues to the tectonic histories of Mars, Titan, and Earth. A team of researchers led by Benjamin Black (City College of New York) recently compared the topographies of these three bodies, all of which show evidence of fluvial, or river-based, influences on their surface features. The team’s study, published this week in Science, used global drainage patterns of each object’s surface to determine the likelihood of recent tectonic activity.
On Earth, a tectonically active body (hello earthquakes and subduction zones), the results seem to defy physics: water appears to flow along level surfaces or uphill about 40% of the time. Of course, this doesn’t actually occur. The misleading results arose when the researchers blurred topographic data from Earth and Mars to match the resolution of Cassini’s Titan data. At this lower resolution, the researchers suggest, only larger, continent-scale features that formed over a longer timescale will be detectable. “Short-wavelength” mountain ranges and other features formed by tectonic activity will be blurred out, sometimes ...

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