Special Department Lecture - Sam Birch (MIT)

Sam Birch (MIT)
Friday, February 26, 2021 - 4:00pm to 5:00pm
Virtual via Zoom

Title: Piecing Together Planetary Surfaces

Our solar system hosts a great diversity of planetary surfaces, whose evolution is driven by processes both analogous to those we are familiar with here on Earth as well as processes completely alien to our everyday experience. I will detail two such worlds in this talk, Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, and comet 67P. Titan’s dense atmosphere has given rise to the only known active extraterrestrial hydrologic cycle, which has produced landscapes strikingly similar to those here on Earth. Yet many fundamental aspects of the Titan environment differ from the Earth, primarily that its peculiar ternary liquid hydrocarbon mixture has taken the place of water. As a result, our understanding of the timescales over which its landscapes evolve, and how they are coupled to Titan’s changing climate remain in their infancy. Meanwhile, the landscapes of 67P are among the most primitive in our solar system, offering a window into the era of planet formation and the opportunity to study landscape evolution under gravitational conditions 100,000-times less than on Earth. Yet we lack a quantitative understanding of how these landscapes evolve, with limited knowledge of the underlying physics that controls sublimation erosion in near gravity-less environments. In this talk, I will detail two recent advances we have made in understanding the evolution of these contrasting landscapes, and how they can be used as springboards to understand the myriad of other dynamic worlds scattered across our solar system.

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About this Series:

Weekly talks given by leading thinkers in the areas of geology, geophysics, geobiology, geochemistry, atmospheric science, oceanography, climatology, and planetary science. Lectures take place on Wednesdays from 4pm EST unless otherwise noted. For more information please contact: Maggie Cedarstrom, maggie84@mit.edu.