Scientists have compiled the first global geological map of Titan, one of Saturn's main moons, thanks to data provided by the Hyugens spaceship – launched in 1997 with the Cassini mission. In addition to being the only moon in the solar system with clouds and a dense atmosphere of nitrogen and methane, evidence suggests that Titanium is covered with organic material.
According to a study published in the journal Nature Astronomy, data from Cassini's infrared and radar devices managed to remove those dense layers of the atmosphere that mask a wider view of the moon. After receiving this information, scientists reconstructed and mapped the surface of the Titan, presenting six main geological forms, their age, distribution and detailed information about the poles.
Titanium has liquid bodies on the surface, similar to those on Earth, but rivers, lakes and seas are made up of liquid ethane and methane. These compounds form clouds and rain gas from the sky. This methane cycle is the driving force behind the geology of Titanium – at the poles, moisture helps methane to remain in a liquid state. Around the equator, a more arid climate causes the carved dunes to remain intact.
In other words, we find various geological formations depending on latitude. But there is another notable feature around the moon: the presence of organic plains.
Rosalie Lopez, author of the study and senior fellow at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, explains that “the strong latitudinal dependency of various units provides clues about how the methane cycle works,” although she admits that puzzles still exist. “For example, most of the surface is covered with organic materials, especially plains (65%) and dunes (17%). They are formed, we think, from organic materials that fall from the atmosphere and are moved by the wind. tells us that winds were very important for shaping the surface of Titan. "
This discovery that most of Titan is covered with organic plains came as a surprise to researchers. Because, according to Lopez, "people, as a rule, know and study the most" interesting "resources of Titan, such as lakes (which occupy only 1.5% of the surface)."
Valuable information for the Dragonfly mission
In 2026, NASA will send the Dragonfly mission to research Titanium since 2034. The ultimate goal of the spacecraft is to visit the impact crater, where it is believed that the vital ingredients were mixed when a space object fell to the ground in the past. perhaps tens of thousands of years ago.
According to Lopez, this new moon map can help provide context for everything Dragonfly can detect. “We still have a lot of questions about Titan. The ones that are most interesting to me are those related to habitability, ”said the scientist, who expects a lot of answers about the composition and potential habitability when Dragonfly shows data directly from the surface of Titanium. For her, “the fact that we have so much organic material on Titan has important consequences for life.”
Lopez and his team are working on models of the evolution of the Titan landscape to understand how organic material moves on the surface and where and how it is able to penetrate icing. “Organic products that reach the ocean, the most likely habitat, are fundamental to habitability,” the researcher concludes.