Scientists managed to map the entire surface of Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, for the first time in history. Even more exciting, the map confirms prior suspicions that suggested Titan has several qualities similar to our planet that could mean it is able to support life.
The data needed for the map was collected by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. US scientists have been using Cassini to study Saturn and its moons from 2004 to 2017. The geological map of Titan was put together using images and measurements made by Cassini, and the operation was documented in a report published recently in Nature Astronomy.
The leader of the project was Rosaly Lopes, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. She explained that the numerous similarities between Earth and Titan spark a large amount of interest among scientists, who wish to explore Saturn’s moon even more.
“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,” Lopes said.
Besides our home-planet, Titan is the only body in our solar system that has known bodies of liquid on its surface. However, Titan’s seas and lakes are made up of liquid methane rather than water. Methane is a gas but, since Titan’s atmosphere is very cold, it behaves as a liquid, covering about 1.5 percent of Titan.
Ralph Lorenz, a planetary scientist from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, says that Titan’s surface has a high degree of diversity. “It’s almost like a completely different world, and this systematic mapping marshals that diversity,” he said.
According to Rosaly Lopes, organic materials containing carbon are crucial for the growth of living organisms.
“Organics are very important for the possibility of life on Titan, which many of us think likely would have evolved in the liquid water ocean under Titan’s icy crust,” she said.