'Possibility of life': scientists map Saturn's exotic moon Titan

  • Tuesday 19, November 2019 10:37 AM
Sharjah24 - Reuters: Scientists on Monday unveiled the first global geological map of Saturn's moon Titan including vast plains and dunes of frozen organic material and lakes of liquid methane, illuminating an exotic world considered a strong candidate in the search for life beyond Earth.
The map was based on radar, infrared and other data collected by NASA's Cassini spacecraft, which studied Saturn and its moons from 2004 to 2017. Titan, with a diameter of 3,200 miles (5,150 km), is the solar system's second-biggest moon behind Jupiter's Ganymede. It is larger than the planet Mercury.

Organic materials - carbon-based compounds critical for fostering living organisms - play a leading role on Titan.

On Earth, water rains down from clouds and fills rivers, lakes and oceans. On Titan, clouds spew hydrocarbons like methane and ethane - which are gases on Earth - in liquid form due to the moon's frigid climate.

Rainfall occurs everywhere on Titan, but the equatorial regions are drier than the poles, said study co-author Anezina Solomonidou, a European Space Agency research fellow.

Plains (covering 65% of the surface) and dunes (covering 17% of the surface) made up of frozen bits of methane and other hydrocarbons dominate Titan's mid-latitudes and equatorial regions, respectively.

Titan is the only solar system object other than Earth boasting stable liquids on the surface, with lakes and seas of full of methane being major features at its polar regions. Hilly and mountainous areas, thought to represent exposed portions of Titan's crust of water ice, represent 14% of the surface.

The map was created seven years before the U.S. space agency is set to launch its Dragonfly mission to dispatch a multi-rotor drone to study Titan's chemistry and suitability for life. Dragonfly is scheduled to reach Titan in 2034.