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article imageGrains of sands on Titan held together by static electricity

By Tim Sandle     Mar 29, 2017 in Science
Atlanta - The great moon of Saturn – Titan – is a remarkable object. With a surface of sand and a possible ocean beneath its surface it is different to many other planetary objects. A new insight into the sands indicates signs of static electricity.
Titan is the largest moon of Saturn and it is the only solar system moon known to have a dense atmosphere together with stable pools of surface liquid. Titan is the moon from Saturn and it is more ‘planet like’ than other moons. In terms of size, Titan is 50 percent larger than Earth's Moon and 80 percent more massive, making it the second-largest moon in the solar system (the largest is Jupiter's moon Ganymede). Titan is larger than the planet Mercury.
Titan fascinates scientists because it has a probable sub-surface ocean and layers of sand on its surface. Remarkably the surface exhibits static electricity, and it is the static electricity that possibly holds the grains of sand together. This is thought to occur because the grains of sand rub against each other as they are blown across the surface by powerful winds. This causes the grains to stick together.
Titan is the largest moon of Saturn. It is the only moon known to have a dense atmosphere  and the o...
Titan is the largest moon of Saturn. It is the only moon known to have a dense atmosphere, and the only object in space other than Earth where clear evidence of stable bodies of surface liquid has been found.
NASA/JPL/University of Arizona/University of Idaho
The reason why scientists think this is happening is because there are great sand dunes which face against a powerful East-to-West wind without being blown apart. Without the static theory, the dunes should not exist.
To test out the ‘static cling’ theory, researchers have tested particles of two hydrocarbons: biphenyl and naphthalene, placed inside of a modified pressure vessel. These hydrocarbons are thought to occur on the surface of the moon. The study showed that after 20 minutes of movement, there was sufficient ‘static cling’ to cause the particles to stick to the sides of the testing chamber. The low gravity on the moon also helps to keep sand dune structures together. Interestingly, this phenomenon will not work with the type of sand common to Earth, due to the sand on Titan being of a different chemical composition.
Speaking to Laboratory Roots about the experiment, lead researcher Josef Dufek, from Georgia Tech explains: "If you grabbed piles of grains and built a sand castle on Titan, it would perhaps stay together for weeks due to their electrostatic properties.”
The scientist added: "Any spacecraft that lands in regions of granular material on Titan is going to have a tough time staying clean. Think of putting a cat in a box of packing peanuts."
The research into Titan has been published in the journal Nature Geoscience. The research is titled “Electrification of sand on Titan and its influence on sediment transport.”
More about Titan, Moon, Saturn, Sand, Static electricity
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