Adding to the wealth of information on the solar system and its planets, a recent study by astronomers at Cornell University has published the final maps of Saturn’s moon Titan’s liquid methane rivers and tributaries. The study is said to work as an insightful guide for National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) upcoming Dragonfly mission. NASA’s upcoming Dragonfly mission will fly multiple sorties to sample and examine sites around Titan and the recent study may help provide context for the expedition.
The study, published in the Planetary Science Journal (August 2021) shows thefluvial maps and its details which were discovered by the team of astronomers with the help of data collected by NASA’s late Cassini mission. Besides creating the maps, the study also examined what could be learned by analysing Earth’s rivers by using degraded radar data, similar to what Cassini witnessed. The Cassini mission was the first to study the planet and its ring when it was launched in 1997. The spacecraft met its demise when it plunged into Saturn’s atmosphere on September 15, 2017.
In the recent study, scientists have shown that like water on Earth, liquid methane and ethane fill Titan’s lakes, rivers and streams. To understand those channels, including their twists and branch-like turns, is crucial to knowing how that moon’s sediment transport system works and the underlying geology works. Co-author and associate professor of astronomy in the College of Arts and Sciences at Cornell, Ale Hayes said in a statement that the channel systems are the heart of Titan’s sediment transport pathways. Hayes added that the pathways give a hint about the organic materials and how they are routed around Titan’s surface. The fluvial map created by the researchers also identifies locations where the material might be concentrated near tectonic or perhaps even cryovolcanic features, Hayes revealed.
Stressing on the importance of Titan’s liquid methane and ethane bodies, Hayes said that scientists have the opportunity of studying what is happening currently unlike Mars where water bodies existed 3.6 billion years ago. “Examining Titan’s hydrologic system represents an extreme example comparable to Earth’s hydrologic system – and it’s the only instance where we can actively see how a planetary landscape evolves in the absence of vegetation,” said Hayes.