The most Earth-like world in our solar system is Saturn’s largest moon, Titan.
And on its first global map ever, you can find oceans, plains, dunes and mountains… And what about life?
Titan has a very thick atmosphere and therefore looks like a featureless, orange-brown moon from space. But this is only from the outside.
Indeed, below this thick cloud cover, you find a complex geology and hydology such as lakes, rivers, oceans and rains. But rather than water, it’s liquid methane and ethane.
The lead author of the new research published in Nature Astronomy explains: “Titan has an active methane-based hydrologic cycle that has shaped a complex geologic landscape, making its surface one of most geologically diverse in the solar system.”
Rosaly Lopes adds: “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.”
The new global map of Titan is made up of pictures – radar, visible light and infrared instruments – taken during more than 120 Cassini’s flybys.
There are dunes, interspersed with permanent hills and mountains along the equator. At mid-latitudes are covered by flat plains. The methane lakes and oceans are mostly concentrated at the poles and impact craters scattered around.
Such a map of Titan is very important to narrow down places of interest for future missions. Where is life on the planet. When are we going to explore the oceans and lakes? Very interesting stuff here. [Nature, NASA]