Scientists collected the first global geological map of Titan, one of Saturn's main satellites, with the Cassini mission in 1997, thanks to data provided by the Hyugens spacecraft launched in 1997. In addition to being the only moon with clouds in the solar system and an intense atmosphere of nitrogen and methane, evidence suggests that Titan is covered with organic material.
According to a study published in Nature Astronomy, Cassini's infrared and radar device data was able to remove these dense layers that conceal a larger image of the moon. With this information, scientists reconstructed and mapped the surface of Titan; six main geological forms, ages, poles and distribution of the information they gave.
On the surface of the Titan, similar to the Earth, but rivers, lakes and seas are made of liquid ethane and methane. These compounds form clouds and rain gas from the sky. This methane cycle is the driving force behind Titan's geology – moisture at the poles helps keep the methane in liquid form. Around the equator, a drier climate causes the wind-dunes to remain intact.
In other words, we find different geological formations according to latitudes. But there is another feature that stands out throughout the month: the presence of organic plains.
Although Rosaly Lopes, the author and senior researcher at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, admits that mysteries still exist, “the transverse dependence of different units gives clues about how the methane cycle works”. “For example, most of the surface is covered with organic materials, especially plains (65%) and sand dunes (17%). We think that these are organic materials falling from the atmosphere and carried by the wind. He says the winds are very important in shaping the surface of the titans. "
The discovery that most of Titan was covered with organic plains surprised the researchers. Because, according to Lopes, people know and work with the most interesting sources of Titan (such as lakes) (they cover only 1.5% of the surface). "
Valuable information for the Dragonfly mission
In 2026, NASA will send its mission to discover the Dragonfly on the Titan by 2034. The ultimate purpose of the spacecraft is to visit an impact crater, which is believed to have been involved when vital components hit a ground object in the past. Probably tens of thousands of years ago.
This new lunar map, according to Lopes, can help provide context for anything Dragonfly can discover. Hala There are still too many questions about Titan. The most interesting thing for me is about the livability. ” When Dragonfly shows direct data from the surface of Titan, he expects many answers about composition and potential viability. For him, “The fact that we have so much organic material on Titan has important impacts on life.”
Lopes and his team are working on Titan's landscape evolution models to understand how organic material moves on the surface and where and how ice can pass through. "Organic products reaching the ocean, the most likely habitable environment, form the basis of livability," he said.