Saturn’s moon Titan has lakes and rivers of liquid hydrocarbons, temperatures that hover around -300 degrees Fahrenheit, and a thick haze that surrounds it and has cloaked it in mystery. An unusual place for sure, but perhaps what’s most unusual is that Titan more closely resembles Earth of all the planets and moons in our solar system.
This is because like only Earth it has that flowing liquid on its surface, it has a climate featuring wind and rain that form dunes, rivers, lakes, deltas and seas (probably of filled with liquid methane and ethane), it has a thick atmosphere and it has weather patterns that change with the seasons. The moon’s methane cycle is quite similar to our water cycle.
And now astronomers have used data from NASA’s Cassini-Huygens mission to map the entire surface of Titan for the first time. Their work has found a global terrain of mountains, plains, valleys, craters and lakes . Again, this makes Titan unlike anywhere else in the solar system other than Earth.
“Titan has an atmosphere like Earth. It has wind, it has rain, it has mountains,” said Rosaly Lopes, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. She and her colleagues wove together images and radar measurements taken by the spacecraft to produce the first global map of the moon.
“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,” she said. “It’s a really very interesting world, and one of the best places in the solar system to look for life,”
Cassini orbited Saturn from 2004 to 2017 and collected vast amounts of information about the ringed gas giant and its moons. The mission included more than 100 fly-bys of Titan, which allowed researchers to study the moon’s surface through its thick atmosphere and survey its terrain in unprecedented detail.