Two Years After Its Demise, Cassini Yields the First Geologic Map of Titan

The global data will be useful to NASA planners preparing for a new mission to Saturn’s largest moon.

Cassini map of Titan
Cassini’s radar imager peered through Titan’s thick atmosphere, providing data to create a map of its surface.

Relying on data gathered by NASA’s Cassini mission to Saturn, researchers have created the first geologic map of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, revealing a dynamic landscape of dunes, plains, craters, and hydrocarbon lakes.

The Cassini spacecraft conducted more than 120 flybys of the Mercury-size moon during its 13-year mission, which ended in 2017. The mapmakers used data from Cassini’s radar imager, which peered through Titan’s atmosphere of nitrogen and methane. Cassini’s visible and infrared instruments were able to capture some of Titan’s larger geologic features through the opaque haze.

The map will likely prove useful to NASA planners who are preparing to launch a mission to Titan in 2026, which will deploy a multi-rotor vehicle named Dragonfly to explore the moon. As the only other known world in the solar system with stable liquid on its surface, Titan is regarded as a promising candidate for hosting life.

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This story is a selection from the February/March issue of Air & Space magazine

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