Earth may not be so lonely in the solar system after all.
BYU geology undergraduate Dustin Northrup is currently researching wind-carved ridges (yardangs) to understand Saturn’s moon Titan and its similarity to Earth.
“It is something that hasn’t been studied by the scientific community in general,” Northrup said. “That intrigued me. . . . [It] made me want to keep going with this because it’s new territory.”
Titan shares similar features with our home planet. By studying yardangs, Northrup hopes to discover how they were formed on Titan.
“Titan has . . . liquid methane oceans. It has clouds, mountains, rivers, sand dunes, and lots of different things that are very similar to our planet,” Northrup said. “If we can understand these yardangs . . . it’ll give us, the scientific community, a better understanding of what’s going on . . . and why [Titan is] so different from other moons.”
To fully understand these wind-carved ridges, Northrup builds his knowledge by spending time pouring over maps, comparing the sizes of different yardangs on Earth, and reading various geologic and physics papers.
“[We] read literature and find questions that haven’t been answered,” Northrup said. “It’s sifting through [scientists’] ideas, theories, and hypotheses on what the ideal yardang form is.”
A great deal of Northrup’s research includes looking at aerial images of yardangs on Titan and comparing the morphologies and shapes to those found on Earth.
His research also requires him to study multiple subjects as he examines yardangs.
“The nice thing about the project I’m working on is it pulls from multiple fields,” Northrup said. “[It] involves lots of different parts of geology. With every discipline, it can all be broken down into little subfields of geology, physics, math, or English.”
Studying these subfields helps Northrup and those working with him understand what is occurring on Titan.
Northrup graduated August 2015 and will be attending BYU for his master’s degree. He has conducted his research under the direction of geology professor Jani Radebaugh.