Titan is one of the most interesting stars in the Solar System. Orbiting Saturn , it is the second largest moon after Jupiter’s Ganymede. But it is also the most Earth-like place to have its own atmosphere and weather processes similar to ours. For these and other reasons it is one of the places most studied by astronomers and you will always find new and interesting features on the satellite. The last one is that it is moving away from Saturn, it was already known, but it turns out that it does so at a speed 100 greater than estimated.
In a new study published in Nature, researchers have analyzed the orbital expansion of the moons that surround Saturn. Saturn’s moons, like ours, gradually drift away from the planet over time. In the case of the Earth and the Moon, for example, the distance is 3.75 cm more each year . Thanks to laser measurements it is possible to calculate how year after year the satellite moves away from us, hinting at how close it was to Earth millions of years ago.
11 centimeters per year
Something similar occurs with Titan with respect to Saturn. Scientists were already aware that Titan’s orbit was gradually expanding, but the new study increases speed about 100 times more than previous estimates. According to his calculations, Titan moves about 11 centimeters away from Saturn each year .
Why was it thought before that he walked away 100 times slower? Because of Titan’s position with respect to Saturn. In theory, the farther the satellite is from your planet, the expansion of its orbit is slower. But researchers contradicted this in 2016 in a study explaining that the farthest moons can also drift away at high speed if they were trapped in a particular orbit with their planet. Now it seems that this theory is confirmed .
11 centimeters at first may seem insignificant, but it must be remembered that things in space are best measured in thousands and even millions of years. In this way we can see the great difference between where Titan was in his origins and where he is now.
How important is it for Titan to move 11 cm away each year? More than meets the eye, it may help astronomers better understand when and how Saturn’s mythical rings formed, as well as its more than 80 moons ( 82 to be exact ). Titan is currently just over 1.2 million kilometers from Saturn. But this distance was probably much less when it formed 4.6 billion years ago.
To obtain these highly accurate centimeters measurements, the researchers have used data collected by the Cassini probe between 2006 and 2016. With this, they were able to accurately calculate Titan’s orbit with respect to Saturn.
Cassini , by the way, has been analyzing Saturn for more than a decade to understand how this gigantic and gaseous planet works with its rings and numerous moons. In 2017 astronomers finally decided to end the mission by sending Cassini directly to crash into Saturn . This was on purpose, because in this way they ensured that it would not collide and contaminate any of Saturn’s moons that are considered possible space with adequate conditions of life. One of those spaces is precisely Titan, which is why we are looking to send a drone and even a submarine .