NASA's Cassini discovers 'Sea Level' in Saturn's moon

Sea Level Elevation On Titan

The new findings showcase how "eerily similar" the two worlds are, despite being located almost a billion miles away from each other.

The new map - available to "download" all stakeholders - uses algorithms to complement Titan's topography. Now, scientists have finally gathered its complete data set and are analyzing it. Thanks to that data, astronomers from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, have created a new global topographic map of Saturn's moon Titan, which will help them understand its terrain, and more importantly, the liquid flows.

It also suggests there's an even greater volume of liquid hydrocarbons on Titan flowing out of sight.

The first result is that Titan's three seas share a common equipotential surface, meaning they form a sea level, just as Earth's oceans do.

This research was published inGeophysical Research Letters.

Paul Corlies is first author on the topography study, which resulted in an end-of-mission map of Titan via Cassini. Hayes and his team measured the elevation of lakes filled with liquid as well as those that are now dry, and found that lakes exist hundreds of meters above sea level, and that within a watershed, the floors of the empty lakes are all at higher elevations than the filled lakes in their vicinity. The map combines all of the Titan topography data from multiple sources. To date, only 9% of the Saturn satellite has been observed with relatively high topographic analysis, while 25% to 30% with lower resolution. The rest was constructed via interpolation, that is, via a method of constructing new data points within the range of a discrete set of known data points.

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Titan is the only world in our solar system other than Earth that has stable liquid on its surface. Because we have such unbelievable 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. Lakes at high elevation are commonly found on Earth.

However, Titan's lakes and seas have hydrocarbons instead of liquid water. The highest lake, which can be navigated by ships - Lake Titicaca - is over 12,000 feet above sea level.

According to the new research, the elevation is important since Titan's liquid bodies seem to be connected under the surface, in the same way as an aquifer system on Earth would be linked.

Titan's Ligeia Mare, shown in here in data obtained by the Cassini spacecraft, is the second-largest known body of liquid on Saturn's moon Titan.

The discovery of similarities between Titan and Earth reveals that the Saturn and its moons are more hospital to life than other planets in the solar system. Similar to Earth, Titan's seas also have an average elevation. Image via NASA JPL-Caltech/ ASI/ Cornell.

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