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Wood Presents Findings of Moons of Saturn and Earth

Wed Mar 19 2008

Dr. Chuck Wood, executive director of the Center for Educational Technologies®, spoke about his research on Saturn's moon Titan and also presented a poster about our own Moon at this year's Lunar and Planetary Science Conference.

Wood, a planetary geologist and volcanologist, has written a book about the Moon and is also part of NASA's ongoing Cassini-Huygens mission studying Saturn and its moons. He presented his research during the annual LPSC conference March 10-14 in Houston.

Wood was lead author of a paper discussing impact cratering on Titan, and a coauthor on two others detailing results of the ongoing radar mapping of Titan. Approximately a fifth of Titan has been radar imaged, and Wood spoke about the relative lack of impact craters on the moon's surface. He called it "vexing."

"The number of impact craters on the surface of a planet or moon is evidence of how geologically active the world is," Wood said. "Earth has a great deal of continuing volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and sea level changes, resulting in the erosional removal of most of the impact craters that formed here. But our Moon has thousands of visible impact craters, demonstrating that it has had few geologic changes over the last two billion years. We know very little about Titan, but the small number of impact craters detected on its surface implies that it is more like Earth than like our Moon. The inferred youthful surface age of Titan and the various erosional states of its remaining impact craters demonstrate that dynamic processes have destroyed most of the early history of the world, and that one or more processes continue to strongly modify its surface."

Wood's poster session on Earth's Moon was titled, "The Werner-Airy Basin and Hints of Highland Volcanism."

"The earliest history of the Moon is concealed or destroyed by subsequent impact cratering and volcanism," Wood said. "The oldest structures detectable are very large craters called basins, some of which have little topographic or structural signature. I reinvestigated one of the potentially oldest basins, Werner-Airy, providing evidence that it exists and contains volcanic landforms."

Wood's observation is potentially important because there has been little evidence that volcanism occurred in the oldest cratered areas of the Moon. If his evidence is confirmed, then the Moon has a longer history of volcanic eruptions than previously suspected.