When you think of a moon, you can imagine a rocky, craggy barren place with little to do besides wandering around your rover and collecting rocks. While the moon of Earth is certainly an example of a dead world, there are over 200 months in our solar system orbiting planets and asteroids. Fortunately for human scientists, the universe is super creatively able to make all months as static as ours.
Using newly analyzed data from NASA's Cassini mission, astronomers published a study in Nature Astronomy this week about a new surface map of Saturn's largest moon, Titan. The first-of-its-kind map shows a world that looks like Earth – specifically, Titan is full of mountains, plains, valleys, craters and lakes. This makes it unlike anywhere in the solar system, except Earth. Interestingly, even Titan's atmosphere was similar to the Earth's atmosphere in ancient times.
"Titan has an active psychoanalytic psychology that constitutes a complex geologic landscape, making its surface one of the most geologically diverse in the Solar System," state-of-the-art authors paper study. "Despite the divergence of materials, temperatures and gravity fields between Earth and Titan, many of their surface features are similar and can be interpreted as products of the same geologic processes."
While researchers already have an understanding of the different terrain of the moon. the new review and map revealed some surprises.
"I'm a bit surprised that the plains are forming more Titan than I thought," Rosaly Lopes, a lead scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and co-author study, told Salon.
Specifically, the map shows that the moon's surface is two-thirds of the plateau, 17 percent of sand dunes, 14 percent hills or mountains, and 1.5 percent valleys. A little over one percent of its surface is filled with liquid, but unlike the Earth, the fluids in question are not water but liquid methane.
"Titan has the wind to make a vast plain, it has rain, it has lakes, seas, rivers, so it's really another month from the usual cratered surface you see," Lopes added.
Titan's diversity and similarity to Earth make the moon a place to find microbial life.
"This is one of the places in the solar system where it is like [ly] that life can flourish, because we have a combination of many organic materials," Lopes added.
Unfortunately, we'll have to wait for another two. decades to find out. NASA plans to send a drone to Titan on the Dragonfly mission by 2034, which will fly around and study the moon in detail. As Titan has a slightly thicker atmosphere than Earth, and temperatures are cold but not economical, a rotor-based rotor can easily buzz around the lively moon.
Meanwhile, back on Earth, researchers didn't just think of diversity. of the land of the moon, but also where different formations are found. Most of the moons of the moon are located near its north pole, which may be the result of Saturn's elliptical orbit around the Sun causing a longer summer in the northern hemisphere than in the southern hemisphere.
Tracy Gregg, a planet geologist at the University of Buffalo in New York, told Nature that this map would help researchers answer important questions about Titan. "One is: what kind of changes does Titan go through from time to time, and what kind of changes can the internal [heat] of Titan drive?" He says.
Lopes claims that Titan would qualify as a planet in its own right if it were not parked in orbit around Saturn.
"Titan is a different moon, a different world, and if it is not in orbit around Saturn, we would say it is a planet because it has the second most extended atmosphere as a solid body in the solar system. First Venus, Titan, second, Earth, third, "Lopes said.
"I think as we study Titan, we will find out more about what led to the evolution of different moons," he added.