WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Scientists unveiled Monday the first worldwide geological map of Saturn's moon Titan, which contains vast plains and dunes of frozen organic material and lakes of liquid methane, illuminating an exotic world as a strong candidate for search after life in the hereafter earth applies.
FILE PHOTO: This artist's concept envisages how the hydrocarbon ice formed on a liquid hydrocarbon sea of Saturn's moon Titan could look like this NASA image released on January 8, 2013. REUTERS / NASA / JPL-Caltech / USGS / Handout  The map was based on radar, infrared and other data collected by the NASA spacecraft Cassini, which studied Saturn and its moons from 2004 to 2017. Titan, with a diameter of 5,150 km, is the second largest moon in the solar system behind Jupiter's Ganymede. It's bigger than the planet Mercury.
Organic materials – carbon compounds that are crucial for the promotion of living organisms – play a leading role in titanium.
"Organic matter is very important to the possibility of living on Titan, which many of us believe have developed in the liquid-water ocean beneath the ice crust of Titan," said planetary geologist Rosaly Lopes of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory California.
"Organic materials can, we believe, penetrate into the liquid water ocean and provide nutrients necessary for life as they develop there," added Lopes, who led the research published in the journal Nature Astronomy ,
On earth, water is raining from clouds, filling rivers, lakes and oceans. Clouds on the Titan spit hydrocarbons such as methane and ethane, which are gases on Earth due to the cold climate of the moon in liquid form. Rain is falling everywhere on Titan, but the equatorial regions are drier than the poles, said co-author of the study, Anezina Solomonidou, a Research Fellow of the European Space Agency.
Levels (covering 65% of the surface) and dunes (covering 17% of the surface) of frozen methane and other hydrocarbons dominate the mid-latitudes and equatorial regions of Titan.
Titan is the only Solar System object besides Earth, with stable surface liquids, with lakes and seas full of methane being the main features in the polar regions. Hilly and mountainous areas, which are believed to be exposed portions of the titan ice-water crust, account for 14% of the surface area.
"It's really fun to think about ways to mix these more complex organic substances in the deep ice crust or deep subterranean ocean with water," said JPL scientist and study co-author Michael Malaska.
Malaska found that there is a bacterium on Earth that can only survive with a hydrocarbon called acetylene and water.
The map was created seven years before the launch of the US Space Agency's Dragonfly mission to deploy a multi-rotor drone to study Titan's chemistry and suitability for life. Dragonfly is scheduled to reach Titan in 2034.
"It's not just scientifically important, it's also really cool – a drone flying around Titan," Lopes said. "It's going to be really exciting."
Reporting by Will Dunham; Edited by Tom Brown