Titan is the largest moon orbiting Saturn, and NASA has unveiled the first global map of the moon. The map shows a world of dunes, lakes, plains, craters, and other terrain. Titan is important to scientists because it is the only other known planetary body in the solar system, other than Earth, known to have stable liquid on its surface.
The significant difference is that instead of water lakes as the Earth has, Titan has methane and ethane hydrocarbons on its surface. On Earth, those are gasses, but in the frigid cold of Titan, they behave like liquids. Scientist Rosaly Lopes says that the active methane-based hydrologic cycle has shaped a complex geologic landscape.
NASA says that the surface of Titan is one of the most geologically diverse in the solar system. The scientist used data gathered from the NASA Cassini mission that operated between 2004 and 2017. The spacecraft completed over 120 flybys of Titan, which is about the size of Mercury.
Lopes and the team used data from the Cassini radar imager to penetrate the opaque atmosphere of the moon made of nitrogen and methane. There are features between Titan and Earth that are similar despite the massive difference between the two. The map shows that Titan has different geologic terrains with a clear distribution with latitude, globally, and some terrains cover more ground than others.
Lopes notes that the study is an example of using combined datasets and instruments. She notes that the team didn’t have global coverage with synthetic aperture radar, so they used data from other instruments and modes for radar to correlate characteristics of different terrain units to infer what the terrain is in areas missing radar coverage. The hydrocarbons methane and ethane take the role on Titan that water has on Earth.