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Prospects of Cryovolcanic Columnar Joints on Titan

Presentation #218.05 in the session “Titan Surface and Interior”.

Published onOct 26, 2020
Prospects of Cryovolcanic Columnar Joints on Titan

Columnar joints are a common volcanic feature on many planetary bodies, such as Earth and Mars. Columnar joints in basaltic rocks are hexagonal cracks formed by slow cooling and subsequent contraction of erupted lava on the surface. The presence of surface liquid bodies likely impact the cooling rates of lava fields and formation of columnar joints [1]. Experimental studies suggest columnar jointing occurs in corn starch [2] and glassy water ice [3].Thus, Saturn’s largest moon Titan offers intriguing prospects for ”cryo-column” formation due to the presence of ample surface hydrocarbon and geological features possibly linked to cryovolcanism.

We apply 1D and 2D models of the heat equation and analytical techniques from basaltic column observations to investigate possible conditions needed for and the likelihood of cryo-column formation. We compare the mechanical strength of pure ice and the thermal stress expected for a cooling pertectic 32% ammonia-ice cryo-column from 100-160 K. We find thermal cracking may be restricted to the near-surface since the thermal stress is the same order-of-magnitude as the mechanical strength at 100 K. The heat models suggest cryo-columns may be meters tall if they are able to cool over a Titan year. We will also present preliminary results on the cooling effects of liquid hydrocarbon intrusion into the cracks of a cooling cryolava.

  1. Lorenz, R. D. (1996). Planetary and space science, 44(9), 1021-1028.

  2. Goehring, L. (2009). Physical Review E, 80(3), 036116.

  3. Menger, F. M., et al., (2002)


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