First global topographic map of Saturn's moon Titan created

May 16, 2013 at 2:54 PM
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BALTIMORE, May 16 (UPI) -- U.S. scientists say they've created the first global topographic map of Saturn's moon Titan, one of the solar system's most Earth-like and "fascinating" worlds.

The map will be a valuable tool for learning more about Titan, the only moon in the solar system known to have clouds, surface liquids and a mysterious, thick atmosphere, Ralph Lorenz, of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., said.

Titan, Saturn's largest moon, is bigger than the planet Mercury. Organic chemicals, derived from methane, are present in the moon's atmosphere, lakes and rivers and may offer clues about the origins of life, researchers said.

"Titan has so much interesting activity -- like flowing liquids and moving sand dunes -- but to understand these processes it's useful to know how the terrain slopes," Lorenz said.

"It's especially helpful to those studying hydrology and modeling Titan's climate and weather, who need to know whether there is high ground or low ground driving their models," said Lorenz, who led the map-design team.

The map was created using radar data from NASA's Saturn-orbiting Cassini spacecraft, which has flown past the moon nearly 100 times during the past decade.

"With this new topographic map, one of the most fascinating and dynamic worlds in our solar system now pops out in 3D," said Steve Wall of Cassini's radar team based at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "On Earth, rivers, volcanoes, and even weather are closely related to heights of surfaces -- we're now eager to see what we can learn from them on Titan."

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