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A new theory suggests that Titan’s majestic dune fields may be have come from outer space. Researchers had always assumed that the sand making up Titan’s dunes was locally made, through erosion or condensed from atmospheric hydrocarbons. But researchers from the University of Colorado want to know: Could it have come from comets?

The dunes of Titan

When the Cassini spacecraft arrived in orbit around Saturn, nobody had ever seen beneath the thick soupy atmosphere of Titan. So when it dropped the Huygens lander, and began probing Titan with cloud-penetrating radar, scientists were surprised to learn that Titan has a very earth-like appearance. It has a thick nitrogen atmosphere, rain, rivers, oceans and massive dune fields. But unlike the dunes of Earth’s sandy deserts in Namibia and southern Arabia, Titan’s dunes are enormous, and fill massive fields covering more than an eighth of the giant moon’s surface. These dunes are about 100 meters tall, 1 to 2 km wide at the base, and can stretch for hundreds of kilometers in length.

Dunes on Earth are made from sand, which is blown by the wind and heaped into drifts. Individual sand particles are nudge and blown by the wind with enough force to make them bounce and scatter, in a process called saltation. If the particles don’t bounce, then they cannot pile up on top of each other, but if the wind is able to lift them off the ground completely then they simply blow away. Saltation depends on the size and mass of the sand particles and the strength of the wind, but also needs the particles to be dry so that they can move freely without sticking together.

Titan’s geology

Titan is the second largest moon in the entire Solar System, beaten only by Ganymede, orbiting Jupiter. It is Saturn’s largest moon, and very old. Unlike most of Saturn’s moon, which were captured over time, Titan would have formed together with Saturn billions of years ago. Despite having so many features in common with Earth, it is a very different place. It is so intensely cold that, instead of water, its rain and rivers are made from liquid hydrocarbons like methane. Water, on the other hand, is frozen into hard ice; rocks on Titan are made from water ice, instead of granite and basalt, and Titan’s equivalent of lava and magma are made from liquid water and ammonia.

This means that sand on Titan is not made from silica eroded from larger rocks, since those materials are not found on the surface. One popular theory is that it could instead be made from ice. When liquid methane rains and flows, it could erode the water-ice bedrock, grinding chunks together to a sand of ice grains. An alternative idea is that the sand particles are instead made from tholins. These are found all over the colder regions of the Solar System, where cold hydrocarbons in comets or the outer atmospheres of planets and moons react with ultraviolet light from the Sun to create complex compounds. Tholins formed in the dry atmosphere of Titan could clump together with static electricity to form small grains of soot that then settle to the ground, creating both dust and sand.

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Comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle captured during its last pass by Earth on Nov. 1, 1992. Credit: Gerald Rhemann

What do comets have to do with this?

But a paper presented at this year’s Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC) suggests a new idea: What if the sand came from comets? Comets, as we know, are made from materials left over from the creation of the Solar System. Most of the primordial gas and dust that collapsed from an ancient nebula to form the Solar System would have ended up in the Sun, with the bulk of the remains forming the planets. But this still would still have left a lot of material floating free, and some of that would have gradually coalesced into lumps of dust and ices, which we see today as comets. When comets are nudged into elliptical orbits and pass through the inner Solar System, some of their ice heats up and sublimates into gas which blows out, carrying dust with it. This dust is scattered throughout the Solar System, concentrated along the various comet’s orbits. Individual grains often collide with the Earth, which we see as meteors, burning high in our atmosphere. Recent surveys in Antarctic ice

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5 Reasons You Must Backpack Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains

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By Michael Lanza

Chances are that, by now, you’ve heard of Idaho’s Sawtooths—having typed that name into a search box may be the reason you’ve landed on this story. Maybe you’ve been intrigued at what you’ve heard or images you’ve seen from Idaho’s best-known mountain range. Perhaps you’ve even been there and the experience has only amplified your curiosity to see more of this range.

As someone who’s had the good fortune of having backpacked all over the country and in many other countries over the past three-plus decades, including the 10 years I spent as a field editor for Backpacker magazine and even longer running this blog, I rank the Sawtooths among the 10 best backpacking trips in America.

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Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, creator of The Big Outside. Click here to sign up for my FREE email newsletter. Join The Big Outside to get full access to all of my blog’s stories. Click here for my e-books to classic backpacking trips. Click here to learn how I can help you plan your next trip.

Backpackers on Trail 154 to Cramer Divide in Idaho’s Sawtooths.
” data-image-caption=”Backpackers on Trail 154 to Cramer Divide in Idaho’s Sawtooths.
” data-medium-file=”https://i0.wp.com/tbo-media.sfo2.digitaloceanspaces.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/06230304/Saw19-024-Backpackers-on-Trail-154-to-Cramer-Divide-Sawtooth-Mountains-Idaho.jpg?fit=200%2C300&ssl=1″ data-large-file=”https://i0.wp.com/tbo-media.sfo2.digitaloceanspaces.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/06230304/Saw19-024-Backpackers-on-Trail-154-to-Cramer-Divide-Sawtooth-Mountains-Idaho.jpg?fit=683%2C1024&ssl=1″ src=”https://i0.wp.com/tbo-media.sfo2.digitaloceanspaces.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/06230304/Saw19-024-Backpackers-on-Trail-154-to-Cramer-Divide-Sawtooth-Mountains-Idaho-683×1024.jpg?resize=683%2C1024&ssl=1″ alt=”Backpackers on Trail 154 to Cramer Divide in Idaho’s Sawtooths.” class=”wp-image-45355″ style=”width:572px;height:auto” srcset=”https://tbo-media.sfo2.digitaloceanspaces.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/06230304/Saw19-024-Backpackers-on-Trail-154-to-Cramer-Divide-Sawtooth-Mountains-Idaho.jpg 683w, https://tbo-media.sfo2.digitaloceanspaces.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/06230304/Saw19-024-Backpackers-on-Trail-154-to-Cramer-Divide-Sawtooth-Mountains-Idaho.jpg 200w, https://tbo-media.sfo2.digitaloceanspaces.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/06230304/Saw19-024-Backpackers-on-Trail-154-to-Cramer-Divide-Sawtooth-Mountains-Idaho.jpg 768w, https://tbo-media.sfo2.digitaloceanspaces.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/06230304/Saw19-024-Backpackers-on-Trail-154-to-Cramer-Divide-Sawtooth-Mountains-Idaho.jpg 800w” sizes=”(max-width: 683px) 100vw, 683px” data-recalc-dims=”1″ />Backpackers on Trail 154 to Cramer Divide in Idaho’s Sawtooths.

I’ve wandered around the Sawtooths at least a couple dozen times over more than two decades, including numerous backpacking trips, dayhikes, peak scrambles, rock climbing, and backcountry skiing. While there remain peaks on my list to climb, a few trails to hike, and many lakes to leap into (or just sit beside), the Sawtooths have become my backyard mountains. I feel at home there.

This story presents the five reasons I think every backpacker should take a multi-day hike through the Sawtooths—spotlighting the characteristics of a trip there that make this place unique. I believe this argument may persuade you to go (if, somehow, the photos don’t do it).

See my e-book “The Best Backpacking Trip in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains” to learn all you need to know to plan and pull off a five-day, 36-mile Sawtooths hike through the core of the Sawtooths, and my Custom Trip Planning page to learn how I can help you plan every detail of a multi-day hike there.

Please share your thoughts or experiences there in the comments section at the bottom of this story. I
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The Venerable Hubble Space Telescope Keeps Delivering

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The world was much different in 1990 when NASA astronauts removed the Hubble Space Telescope from Space Shuttle Discovery’s cargo bay and placed it into orbit. The Cold War was ending, there were only 5.3 billion humans, and the World Wide Web had just come online.

Now, the old Soviet Union is gone, replaced by a smaller but no less militaristic Russia. The human population has ballooned to 8.1 billion. The internet is a fixture in daily life. We also have a new, more powerful space telescope, the JWST.

But the Hubble keeps delivering, as this latest image shows.

The lenticular galaxy NGC 4753 is about 60 million light-years away. Lenticular galaxies are midway between elliptical and spiral galaxies. They have large-scale disks but only poorly defined spiral arms. NGC 4753 sees very little star formation because like other lenticulars, it’s used up most of its gas. The fact that they contain mostly older stars makes them similar to elliptical galaxies.

Among lenticulars, NGC 4753 is known for the dust lanes surrounding its nucleus. Astronomers think that spirals evolve into lenticulars in dense environments because they interact with other galaxies and with the intergalactic medium. However, NGC 4753 is in a low-density environment. Its environment and complex structure make it a target for astronomers to test their theories of galaxy formation and evolution.

This Hubble image is the sharpest ever taken of NGC 4753, revealing its intriguing complexity and highlighting the space telescope’s impressive resolving power.

Astronomers think that NGC 4753 is the result of a merger with a dwarf galaxy over one billion years ago. The dwarf galaxy was gas-rich, and NGC 4753's distinct dust rings probably accreted from the merger. NGC 4753's powerful gravity then shaped the gas into the complex shapes we see in this image. Image Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, L. Kelsey
Astronomers think that NGC 4753 is the result of a merger with a dwarf galaxy over one billion years ago. The dwarf galaxy was gas-rich, and NGC 4753’s distinct dust rings probably accreted from the merger. NGC 4753’s powerful gravity then shaped the gas into the complex shapes we see in this image. Image Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, L. Kelsey

NGC 4763’s unique structure results from a merger with a dwarf galaxy about 1.3 billion years ago. The video below from NOIRlab explains what happened.

NGC 4753 also hosts two known Type 1a supernovae, which are important because they help astronomers study the expansion of the Universe. They serve as standard candles, an important rung in the cosmic distance ladder.

Galaxies like NGC 4753 may not be rare, but the viewing angle plays a key role in identifying them. Our edge-on view of the galaxy makes its lenticular form clear. We could be seeing others like it from different angles that obscure its nature.

This is a model of NGC 4753, as seen from various viewing orientations. From left to right and top to bottom, the angle of the line of sight to the galaxy's equatorial plane ranges from 10° to 90° in steps of 10°. Although galaxies similar to NGC 4753 may not be rare, only certain viewing orientations allow for easy identification of a highly twisted disk. This infographic is a recreation of Figure 7 from a 1992 research paper.
This is a model of NGC
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Juno Reveals Secrets About Europa’s Icy Surface

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Europa has always held a fascination to me. I think it’s the concept of a world with a sub-surface ocean and the possibility of life that has inspired me and many others. In September 2022, NASAs Juno spacecraft made a flyby, coming within 355 kilometres of the surface. Since the encounter, scientists have been exploring the images and have identified regions where brine may have bubbled to the surface. Other images revealed possible, previously unidentified steep-walled depressions up to 50km wide, this could be caused by a free-floating ocean! 

Juno was launched to Jupiter on 5 August 2011. It took off from the Cape Canaveral site on board an Atlas V rocket and travelled around 3 billion kilometres. It arrived at Jupiter on 4 July 2016 and in September 2022 made its closest flyby of Europa. The frozen world is the second of the four Galilean satellites that were discovered by Galileo over 400 years ago. Visible in small telescopes, the true nature of the moon is only detectable by visiting craft like Juno. 

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Artist’s impression of NASA’s Galileo space probe in orbit of Jupiter. Credit: NASA

During its close fly-by, one of the onboard cameras known as Juno-Cam took the highest resolution images of the moon since Galileo took a flyby in 2000. The images supported the long held theory that the icy crusts at the north and south poles are not where they used to be. Another instrument on board, known as the Stellar Reference Unit (SRU), revealed possible activity resembling plumes where brine may have bubbled to the surface.

The ground track over Europa that was followed by Juno enabled imaging around the equatorial regions. The images revealed the usual, expected blocks of ice, walls, ridges and scarps but also found something else. Steep walled depressions that measured 20 to 50 kilometres across were also seen and they resembled large ovoid pits. 

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One of Juno’s enormous solar panels, unfurled on Earth. NASA/JPL. SWrI

The observations of the meanderings of the north/south polar ice and the varied surface features all point towards an outer icy shell that is free-floating upon the sub surface ocean. This can only happen if the outer shell is not connected to the rocky interior. When this happens, there are high levels of stress on the ice which then causes the fracture pattern witnessed. The images represent the first time such patterns have been seen in the southern hemisphere, the first evidence of true polar wandering.

The images from the SRU surprisingly provided the best quality images. It was originally designed to detect faint light from stars for navigation. Instead, the team used it to capture images when Europa was illuminated by the gentle glow of sunlight reflected from Jupiter. It was quite a novel approach and allowed complex features to become far more pronounced than before. Intricate networks of ridges criss-crossing the surface were identified along with dark stains from water plumes. One feature in particular stood out, nicknamed ‘the Platypus’, it was a 37 kilometre by 67 kilometre region shaped somewhat like a platypus.

Source : NASA’s Juno Provides High-Definition Views of Europa’s Icy Shell

The post Juno Reveals Secrets About Europa’s Icy Surface appeared first on Universe Today.

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