Mapping the Second-largest moon of our Solar System
The geology of the Saturn’s Largest Moon Titan consists of oceans, plains, dunes & mountains
Although Titan has been long sought as the foremost contender of harboring life beyond our own planet, the recent discovery of icy plumes above Saturn’s sixth-largest moon Enceladus points to increased chances of finding microbial life beneath the sub-surface ocean of these lunar bodies. A similar phenomenon on Jupiter’s fourth-largest moon Europa has aroused further interest among researchers— a discovery which has more recently been confirmed by NASA.
Titan has both, a dense atmosphere and known stable bodies of liquid methane, which have been of great interest to researchers. The earlier Cassini mission, which lasted for 20 years (1997–2017) provided valuable information into the geology of the moon.
Astronomers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California have now used years of Cassini data to construct the first global map (pictured above) of the Titan’s surface. While the moon gives out an orange-brown glow devoid of any futures from space, the data from the Cassini machine revealed complex geology of the moon’s surface consisting of an array of different terrains — lakes, rivers, oceans, plains, dunes & mountains.
“Despite the different materials, temperatures and gravity fields between Earth and Titan, many surface features are similar between the two worlds and can be interpreted as being products of the same geologic processes.”
~ Rosaly Lopes, Lead Author of the Research
The research team has mapped out the surface of Titan after combining the data from more than 120 flybys of the Cassini mission and the observations made by its radar, visible light and infrared instruments. These instruments were able to penetrate the thick nitrogenous atmosphere and methanze haze of Titan to get accurate measurements.
Looking at the map itself, the equatorial region has the most geological variety — marked by dunes of “organic snow, ” hummocky regions (ridges) & craters. Most of the craters are located in the eastern hemisphere with Menrva being the biggest one.
The middle latitudes are covered mostly in plains with the dotting of so-called labyrinths — areas disrupted by tectonic activity. While the majority of the methane lakes & oceans are concentrated around the poles — Kraken Mare ocean near the North Pole is the most noticeable one.
This study will narrow down the places of interest for Dragonfly — a drone mission expected to be launched in 2026, reaching the fascinating moon in 2034. NASA is also planning to send a shape-shifting Robot sometimes in the future for a much more detailed study of Titan. If the geology of alien worlds fascinates you, here is the link to a detailed map of Mars.
Detailed Research of this Study has been published in Nature Astronomy.