- Planetary scientists have created a geologic map of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan.
- Covered in rivers and lakes filled with liquid methane, mountains, flat plains and sandy dunes, the moon has a rich, varied topography.
- NASA plans to send a small drone, part of the Dragonfly mission, to Titan by 2034.
Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, is covered in a vast array of fascinating features including flowing rivers of liquid methane and sandy dunes made from organic materials. Now, we have a comprehensive map detailing all of its geologic features, thanks to a new study published this week in the journal Nature Astronomy.
A team of scientists led by planetary scientist and study author Rosaly Lopes of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory used data from the Cassini mission gathered between 2004 and 2017 to stitch together a geologic map of the moon’s surface.
“Titan has an atmosphere like Earth. It has wind, it has rain, it has mountains. It’s a really very interesting world, and one of the best places in the Solar System to look for life,” study author and planetary geologist Rosaly Lopes told Nature.
So what exactly does the moon’s surface look like? Well, it has a rich topography. About two-thirds of Titan’s surface is covered in flat plains. Around 17 percent of the moon—mostly near the equator—is covered in sand dunes, while nearly 14 percent of the surface consists of hummocky, or hilly, terrain. A small slice of the surface is covered in what scientists call “labyrinth” terrain, a network of highly eroded valleys.
What’s noticeably missing from Titan’s surface? Craters. This, scientists suggests, means that the surface is still relatively fresh, and hasn’t been bombarded by large numbers of asteroids or meteorites. The researchers also noted that most of Titan’s lakes circle its north pole. They believe this is likely due to the fact that Saturn’s elliptical orbit means the moon sees more summer rains in the northern hemisphere than the southern hemisphere.
NASA scientists are eager to study the surface of Titan and announced plans earlier this year to send a drone, part of the Dragonfly mission, to the moon’s surface by 2034. It’s likely Lopes map will serve as a travel guide for the mission, highlighting the moon’s most enticing vacation spots.
Don’t forget to send a postcard, Dragonfly.
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