Home / Science / The first map of Saturn's mysterious moon Titan shows labyrinths and lakes

The first map of Saturn's mysterious moon Titan shows labyrinths and lakes

  Saturn Titan

Titan poses in this mosaic image of the Cassini mission in front of Saturn.

NASA / JPL-Caltech / Space Science Institute

Titan, the second largest moon in the solar system, is literally shrouded in riddles. A layer of hazy methane clouds covers the lunar surface and prevents detailed consideration of important geological features. Nevertheless, scientists have managed to see through the clouds thanks to an entrepreneurial work by the Cassini probe and to find out that the surface of Titan consists of huge "phantom" methane lakes . The spacecraft circled Saturn between 2004 and 2017, flying past Titan more than 120 times.

Thanks to these repeated visits, Cassini's radars had time to examine the Titan's characteristics, leading to the first global geological map of the strange, icy world.

The map, published in Nature Astronomy on November 18, identifies six main features (or "geological units"): plains, dunes, hilly terrain (small mountains), lakes, labyrinth terrain, and craters. The surface of the Titan is dominated by levels above the mid-latitudes, which account for approximately 65% ​​of the total mapped area. The dunes stretch across the length of the equator, while at the poles lie the strange methane lakes of the Titan.

The authors note that the majority of Titan lakes are located at the North Pole, while the South Pole appears relatively dry. This may be the result of global climate cycles, and Titan's peculiarities suggest that the lunar surface is affected by a series of processes that are controlled by climate, seasons and altitude.

NASA has shared a fully annotated map with key geological features.


The first krakenmare of Saturn's full moon map [1965 in the US JPL-Caltech / ASU

Titan is like a bizarre earth that poses some tantalizing prospects: could it harbor life? And how different would this life be, thanks to the moon's unusual methane cycle? Could the life that replaced oxygen by methane thrive on Titan? These are just some of the questions that NASA hopes to answer in the future.

The agency plans to return to Titan in 2034 for the Dragonfly mission to drop a drone on the lunar surface. Officially designated a rotorcraft, the vehicle will be the first NASA aircraft to carry out a scientific mission on another planet. NASA hopes to cover approximately 175 kilometers (108 miles) during its first 2.7-year study.

"The Cassini mission has revealed that Titan is a geologically active world in which hydrocarbons such as methane and ethane play the role that water plays on Earth," said David Williams, planetary geologist at Arizona State University and Co-author of the study. said in a press release. "These hydrocarbons rain on the surface, flow in streams and rivers, accumulate in lakes and oceans, and evaporate in the atmosphere – it's an amazing world!"

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