Compositional variations of Titan's impact craters indicates active surface erosion

Abstract : Titan, the only moon in the solar system with a considerable atmosphere, is host to a variety of exogenic processes that shape its surface. These processes form features that are quite similar to features on Earth, including sand dunes, rivers, and lakes. The combination of a thick atmosphere and active surface processes also leads to a scarcity of impact craters on the surface of Titan. The compositions of these craters vary and may relate to the type and extent of erosion occurring at their location. In this work, we examined the composition of 12 impact features on Titan using Cassini's Visible and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIMS) and 2.18-cm emissivity data from the RADAR radiometer on board the probe. Comparisons were made between crater composition as inferred from VIMS and composition as inferred from emissivity data with corresponding crater characteristics such as latitude, longitude and erosional state. We see a correlation between crater subsurface composition as inferred from the emissivity data and its erosional state and location. Well-preserved craters typically are more enriched in water-ice than degraded, organic-rich craters, suggesting that variations in composition are partially controlled by erosion and infilling. Moreover, craters located in dune fields show more subsurface organic enrichment than craters within the plains, which indicates that the efficiency of erosion and infilling varies with location and geologic context. VIMS data provide complementary information about crater surficial composition. We note that VIMS spectra do not change with erosional state, but rather appear to depend on the crater location on the moon. We suggest that there are active surface processes occurring on Titan, such as wind or rain, which are actively clearing off its surface and filling in subsurface fractures with organic materials. These processes would act to change the emissivity of the craters over time but leave the surface sensed by VIMS unchanged.
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Submitted on : Thursday, December 6, 2018 - 10:26:20 AM
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A. Werynski, C.D. Neish, Alice Le Gall, Michael A. Janssen. Compositional variations of Titan's impact craters indicates active surface erosion. Icarus, Elsevier, 2019, 321, pp.508-521. ⟨10.1016/j.icarus.2018.12.007⟩. ⟨insu-01946519⟩

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