Map of Titan Reveals Even More Similarities to Earth
NASA's Cassini probe has managed to be really helpful since it crashed into Saturn, and that trend's continuing now. This time, data from the late Cassini has helped astronomers make a breakthrough not with Saturn itself, but with it's most interesting and Earth-like moon: Titan, which has a full atmosphere and liquid oceans.
A team of researchers at Cornell University have created an elaborate map of Titan using that data, publishing their findings in a study titled "Titan's Topography and Shape at the End of the Cassini Mission." The topographical map's in the form of a data set instead of an actual picture you can look at (there's plenty of other photos of Titan), but it's more in-depth that what we've seen before, since mapping a distant moon in a gas giant's shadow is no easy feat.
It's also especially impressive because only 9% of Titan's surface has been photographed in high-resolution, and somewhere between 25-30% of the planet's been photographed in lower resolutions (those distant pictures of the entire moon don't offer much to work with).
Using that first third of the moon as a base, the team had to put together interpolation algorithms and other methods to simulate the rest.
As for what they learned from their new map: first off, Titan is flatter than anyone guessed before, although there are some large dips possibly formed from dried seabeds or ice-spouting cryovolcanic flows. Some new mountains showed up on the map, but none higher than 700 meters, which is a little less than half a mile high. If we ever colonize Titan, hiking will be a much easier hobby to get into.
But more importantly, the team used their map to find some new ways that Titan is similar to Earth, which they published in a separate study. We already knew about the atmosphere and bodies of liquid, but the map revealed that the three biggest seas on Titan share a "a common equipotential surface." In short: Titan has a sea level just like Earth.
This likely means that the seas are connected beneath Titan's surface and liquid flows between them. This might possibly connect to their other big find, which is that nearly every lake on Titan is surrounded by high ridges which tower around it, meaning that every lake is inside a big hole.
According to a senior author of the studies, Alex Hayes, the lakes "literally look like you took a cookie cutter and cut out holes in Titan's surface." Earth lakes have been formed in similar ways in the Florida Everglades, when the ground partially collapses during the lake's formation. Although Titan is much colder than Florida, so don't expect that sort of weather.
#OTD in 2005, @CassiniSaturn conducted its 9th flyby of Saturn's moon Titan, capturing this image. Titan is Saturn's largest moon, and the only other place in the solar system known to have an earthlike cycle of liquids flowing across its surface. More : https://t.co/YpXJ4mMi7p pic.twitter.com/PeHNd3cmzS— NASA History Office (@NASAhistory) December 26, 2017
The map/data set is available for any scholars who want to mess around with it, and it'll be especially helpful we continue to explore how easy it would be to visit Titan in the future. While it's environment would make it easy to live there for a time, ignoring the vicious methane rainstorms we'd have to get used to, it's much farther than closer options like Mars, and we don't have the necessary technology to start living there yet either.
But we might soon, and it's important that we keep learning about Saturn's moon, so we know what we might be getting into someday.