WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Scientists on Monday unveiled the first global geological map of Saturn's lunar titanium, including vast plains and dunes of frozen organic material and lakes of liquid methane, illuminating an exotic world, considered a strong candidate for the search for life The Earth.
The map is based on radar, infrared and other data collected by NASA's Cassini spacecraft, which studies Saturn and its moons from 2004 to 2017. Titan with a diameter of 3,200 miles (5,150 km) is the second largest in the solar system the largest moon behind Ganymede on Jupiter. It is larger than the planet Mercury.
Organic materials, carbon-based compounds critical for the nourishment of living organisms, play a leading role for Titan.
"Organic matter is very important to the life of Titan, which many of us think would probably develop in the liquid water ocean under Titan's ice crust," said planetary geologist Rosalie Lopez of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory California
"Organic materials can, we believe, penetrate down into the liquid water ocean and this may provide the nutrients needed for life if it evolves there," added Lopez, who directs research published in the journal Nature Astronomy . [1
On Earth, water flows from clouds and fills rivers, lakes and oceans On Titan, clouds release hydrocarbons such as methane and ethane – which are gases on Earth – due to the frigid climate of the moon.
Rainfall occurs throughout Titan, but the equatorial regions are drier than the poles, he said the study. author Anesina Solomonidou, Research Fellow at the European Space Agency. The plains (covering 65 percent of the surface) and the dunes (covering 17 percent of the surface), composed of frozen pieces of methane and other hydrocarbons, dominate the middle latitudes and equatorial regions of Titan, respectively.
Titanium is the only Object of the Solar System other than Earth that prides itself on stable surface fluids, with lakes and full-methane seas being major features in its polar regions. Hilly and mountainous areas, which are thought to represent exposed parts of the water-ice titanium crust, represent 14 percent of the surface.
"What is really fun to think about is whether there are any ways in which these more complex organic substances can be submerged and mixed with water in the deep ice crust or deep underground ocean," says the scientist and
Noting that on Earth there is a bacterium that can only survive on a hydrocarbon called acetylene and water, Malaska asked, "Is it possible for something like this to live in Titan deep in the Earth's crust or ocean, where the temperatures are a little warmer? "
The map was created seven years ago the US Space Agency to launch its Dragonfly mission to send a multi-rotary drone to study Titan's chemistry and suitability for life.
"This is not only scientifically important, but also really cool – a drone flying around Titan," said Lopez. "It will be really exciting."
(report by Will Dunham; Editing by Tom Brown)