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Titan Shows Earth-Like Features

In two different research papers published earlier this month, astronomers from Cornell University revealed that Titan has more earth-like features than previously thought.

Both of the papers were published on December 2 Geophysical Review Letters and describes the map and discoveries arising from it. Thanks to the new global topographic map of Saturn’s moon, astronomers will now have new ways to see Titan’s liquid flows and terrain.

In the first of the research papers, titled “Titan’s Topography and Shape at the End of the Cassini Mission”, doctoral student Paul Corlies created a map that combines all of the previous data from multiple sources. As we have thus far have discovered only 9 percent of Titan’s surface, Paul created the map using interpolation algorithm and a global minimization process to reduce errors arising from different factors such as spacecraft’s location.

Interestingly, the new map revealed several new features of the moon. In addition to revealing some new mountains, the map provides a global view of the moon. Surprisingly, the map revealed that Titan is little bit flatter than scientists previously thought. As a result, Titan might contain more mysteries than previously thought.

The second paper, titled, “Topographic Constraints on the Evolution and Connectivity of Titan’s Lacustrine Basins,” tries to find important results using the new map’s data. The results described in this paper was highly surprising considering Titan’s three seas shared a common equipotential surface which means that the seas in the moon creates sea levels like those from Earth’s.

Alex Hayes, Assistant professor of astronomy at Cornell said, “We’re measuring the elevation of a liquid surface on another body 10 astronomical units away from the sun to an accuracy of roughly 40 centimeters. Because we have such amazing accuracy we were able to see that between these two seas the elevation varied smoothly about 11 meters, relative to the center of mass of Titan, consistent with the expected change in the gravitational potential. We are measuring Titan’s geoid. This is the shape that the surface would take under the influence of gravity and rotation alone, which is the same shape that dominates Earth’s oceans.”

“We don’t see any empty lakes that are below the local filled lakes because, if they did go below that level, they would be filled themselves. This suggests that there’s flow in the subsurface and that they are communicating with each other. It’s also telling us that there is liquid hydrocarbon stored on the subsurface of Titan.”

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