Saturn’s moon Titan moving away from it 100 times faster than expected
Scientists say that Saturn’s largest moon Titan is moving away from the ringed planet must faster than previously believed. In fact, it is drifting away a hundred times faster.
The fact was discovered using data collected during NASA’s Cassini spacecraft to study Saturn and some of its moons which revealed that Titan, one of Saturn’s 80 moons, is moving away from the planet at a rate of about four inches per year.
Moons moving away from their planet is a common phenomenon. Earth’s own Moon, for instance, moves about 1.5 inches away every year, according to American space agency NASA. It won’t just leave us — at least not for a very, very long time.
The movement away is caused by the moon’s gravity tugging on the planet, which creates a temporary bulge in the planet. That energy pushes the moon further away.
In the case of Titan, the discovery is significant. While scientists know that Saturn formed around 4.6 billion years ago in the early days of the solar system, they are less certain about when the planet’s signature rings and moons formed.
At the moment, Titan, which is larger than the planet Mercury, orbits Saturn at a distance of 759,000 miles or 1.2 million kilometres away. And if it’s been moving away from the planet at a rapid rate each year, Titan was likely much closer to Saturn in the beginning billions of years ago before migrating. This implies that Saturn’s entire planetary system also expanded quickly.
“This result brings an important new piece of the puzzle for the highly debated question of the age of the Saturn system and how its moons formed,” said the study’s lead author, Valery Lainey, who previously worked at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), in a statement.
The study was published in the journal Nature Astronomy.
Scientists have for long been fascinated by Titan.
It’s the only known moon with a considerable atmosphere and the only planetary body in addition to Earth with liquid rivers and lakes on its surface, according to a report in cnn dot com.
In 2026, NASA will send the Dragonfly mission to further investigate Titan. It will arrive at the moon by 2034. The Mars rover-size drone will be able to fly through Titan’s thick atmosphere for about two and a half years.
The ultimate goal is for Dragonfly to visit an impact crater, where they believe that important ingredients for life mixed together when something hit Titan in the past, possibly tens of thousands of years ago.
“Titan has the key ingredients for life,” said Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division, when the mission was announced in 2019.
“It has complex organic molecules and the energy required for life. We will have the opportunity to observe processes similar to what happened on early Earth when life formed and potentially conditions that could harbor life today,” the CNN article quoted Glaze as saying.