New perspectives on rivers outside our world

Credit image: MIT
Credit image: MIT

Article by: Andacs Robert Eugen, on 11 July 2023, at 12:21 pm PDT

Scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed an innovative method to analyze the history of rivers on Mars and the present flow patterns on Saturn's largest moon, Titan. Unlike Earth, where rivers are a common occurrence, Mars and Titan provide intriguing insights into the dynamics of these natural features beyond our planet.

Utilizing satellite observations, MIT geologists could estimate the rate at which rivers transported fluids and sediment downstream. This technique allowed them to investigate the ancient rivers on Mars and the current river activity on Titan.

The researchers focused on regions on Mars that were believed to have once contained water-filled lakes. By calculating the flow rate of the rivers based on the width, slope, and gravitational field of Mars, they could determine the duration of the rivers' activity. Their findings suggested that rivers flowed for extensive periods, with some potentially supporting life.

Titan, on the other hand, posed more challenges due to its thick atmosphere and limited availability of surface images. Nevertheless, the researchers were able to study the river systems on this moon. Interestingly, they observed that the rivers on Titan had unique characteristics, including the absence of fan-shaped deltas typically found at the mouths of rivers on Earth. This led the scientists to question the factors responsible for the lack of delta formations.

To perform their analysis, the researchers developed mathematical equations to describe the relationships between a river's physical dimensions and its flow rate. These equations were initially developed based on data from rivers on Earth. By adapting and applying these equations to Mars and Titan, the scientists gained insights into the flow patterns and sediment transport in these extraterrestrial rivers.

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