Titan is Drifting Away from Saturn Much Faster than We Thought

Saturn and Titan imaged by Cassini on May 6, 2012. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI. Color composite by Jason Major)

Recent research using data acquired by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft reveals that Titan is moving away from Saturn at a much faster rate than previously thought. How fast? Read on…

“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.”
— Valery Lainey, lead author

(News from NASA)

Just as our own Moon floats away from Earth a tiny bit more each year, other moons are doing the same with their host planets. As a moon orbits, its gravity pulls on the planet, causing a temporary bulge in the planet as it passes.

Over time, the energy created by the bulging and subsiding transfers from the planet to the moon, nudging it farther and farther out. Our Moon drifts 1.5 inches (3.8 centimeters) from Earth each year.

Scientists thought they knew the rate at which the giant moon Titan is moving away from Saturn, but they recently made a surprising discovery: Using data from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, they found Titan drifting a hundred times faster than previously understoodabout 4 inches (11 centimeters) per year.

Titan is the second-largest moon in the Solar System, after Jupiter’s Ganymede. It’s the only moon to possess a dense atmosphere.

The findings may help address an age-old question. While scientists know that Saturn formed 4.6 billion years ago in the early days of the solar system, there’s more uncertainty about when the planet’s rings and its system of more than 80 moons formed. Titan is currently 759,000 miles (1.2 million kilometers) from Saturn. The revised rate of its drift suggests that the moon started out much closer to Saturn, which would mean the whole system expanded more quickly than previously believed.

Source/read more: Saturn’s Moon Titan Drifting Away Faster Than Previously Thought

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