NASA Releases The First Geological Map Of Saturn’s Moon Titan

Pablo Tucker
November 21, 2019

Using radar and infra-red data generated by the now-defunct Cassini probe, which completed a 20-year mission by crashing into Saturn in 2017, the scientists said they could fill in numerous gaps in mapping Titan, some 1.2 billion kilometres (800 million miles) from Earth. "It's nearly like a completely different world, and this systematic mapping marshals that diversity". The map and their discoveries involve the comparative age of Titan's geological topography. Lopes also said that Titan's map showed that the different landscapes on the moon have an equal balance in terms of latitude and some of the terrains cover more areas than the others. On Earth, hydrocarbons like methane exist primarily as gasses. Even so, scientists have been capable of peer through the clouds, due to some enterprising work by the Cassini probe, discovering Titan's surface is composed of vast "phantom" methane lakes.

Titan is the only moon of the Solar System with a dense atmosphere and a full, methane-based hydrological cycle, which has a significant impact on its surface and evolution.

Michael Malaska, a planetary scientist from NASA's Planetary Ices Group and the second author of the new study, is attracted to Titan as an object of scientific curiosity, he said, simply because it is so different. "They have largely been covered over by the organic plains and the dunes". "It's fun to compare and contrast between Earth and Titan". It is larger than the planet Mercury. The map is centered on 0 degrees latitude, 180 degrees longitude. The answer as to why, he said, isn't immediately obvious. Given its hydrocarbon-rich surface, Titan is also riddled in organic material. Instead the compound which shapes the moon's surface in a hydrologic cycle that matches our own is methane (CH4).


This new global map can help provide context for anything discovered on Titan by Dragonfly, Lopes said.

"The undifferentiated plains-the dominant plain unit-is really unusual", Malaska told Gizmodo.

Old data acquired by NASA's Cassini mission has given us our most complete look yet at the mysterious moon.


Looking ahead, the researchers would very much like to know what these plains are made of, how they got there, and why they're located mostly in the mid-latitudes. At the equator, young dune fields dominate while lakes can be found at the poles. Geological features known as labyrinths-areas ripped by tectonic activity-also appear closer to the poles. These are some "really good questions we can start thinking about", he said.

A team led by Rosaly Lopes at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) said Titan's visible exterior was "one of the most geologically diverse in the Solar System". "The poles are humid enough to keep liquid bodies of methane, whereas the arid equatorial climate keeps wind-shaped dunes intact", say Lopes and colleagues.


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