Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Nature, distribution, and origin of Titan’s Undifferentiated Plains

Nature, distribution, and origin of Titan’s Undifferentiated Plains


Lopes et al


The Undifferentiated Plains on Titan, first mapped by Lopes et al. (Lopes, R.M.C. et al., 2010. Icarus, 205, 540–588), are vast expanses of terrains that appear radar-dark and fairly uniform in Cassini Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) images. As a result, these terrains are often referred to as “blandlands”. While the interpretation of several other geologic units on Titan – such as dunes, lakes, and well-preserved impact craters – has been relatively straightforward, the origin of the Undifferentiated Plains has remained elusive. SAR images show that these “blandlands” are mostly found at mid-latitudes and appear relatively featureless at radar wavelengths, with no major topographic features. Their gradational boundaries and paucity of recognizable features in SAR data make geologic interpretation particularly challenging. We have mapped the distribution of these terrains using SAR swaths up to flyby T92 (July 2013), which cover >50% of Titan’s surface. We compared SAR images with other data sets where available, including topography derived from the SARTopo method and stereo DEMs, the response from RADAR radiometry, hyperspectral imaging data from Cassini’s Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIMS), and near infrared imaging from the Imaging Science Subsystem (ISS). We examined and evaluated different formation mechanisms, including (i) cryovolcanic origin, consisting of overlapping flows of low relief or (ii) sedimentary origins, resulting from fluvial/lacustrine or aeolian deposition, or accumulation of photolysis products created in the atmosphere. Our analysis indicates that the Undifferentiated Plains unit is consistent with a composition predominantly containing organic rather than icy materials and formed by depositional and/or sedimentary processes. We conclude that aeolian processes played a major part in the formation of the Undifferentiated Plains; however, other processes (fluvial, deposition of photolysis products) are likely to have contributed, possibly in differing proportions depending on location.

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