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Titan is Moving Away From Saturn 100 Times Faster Than Previously Thought, Says New Study

Titan, which is the second-largest moon in the Solar system, is a unique celestial body. It is the only known moon in our Solar System to have a considerable amount of atmosphere and except for the Earth it is the only body that is known to have liquid rivers and seas on its surface.

An international team of scientists says Titan is drifting away from Saturn 100 times faster than scientists previously thought. The fact that moons drift away from their planets is not something unusual. For example, our Moon is moving away about 1.5 inches (3.81 centimetres) each year, according to NASA, but it's Titan's migration speed that's amazed scientists.

Previous research said that Titan is drifting away from Saturn at a rate of just 0.04 inches (0.1 centimetre) a year, the new study, which was published on 8 June in the journal Nature Astronomy, says Titan is moving away at a huge rate of 4.3 inches (11 centimetres) per year.

In their research scientists relied on the data provided by Cassini-Huygens, a space mission that was launched in 1997 to study Saturn, its rings, and natural satellites. Scientists say their research adds an important piece of the puzzle to Saturn's age and its system.

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"Most prior work had predicted that moons like Titan or Jupiter's moon Callisto were formed at an orbital distance similar to where we see them now", said Jim Fuller, assistant professor of theoretical astrophysics at Caltech and co-author on the study. "This [the result of the study] implies that the Saturnian moon system, and potentially its rings, have formed and evolved more dynamically than previously believed".

NASA scientists plan to study Titan in more detail when they launch the mission Dragonfly in 2026. The agency plans to send a rotocraft that will land on its surface and study a crater, which scientists believe may contain ingredients for life.

"It [Titan] has complex organic molecules and the energy required for life. We will have the opportunity to observe processes similar to what happened on early Earth when life formed and potentially conditions that could harbour life today", said Lori Glaze, director of NASA's Planetary Science Division in 2019.

As for Saturn, the second-largest planet in our Solar system, don’t worry, it won’t feel lonely because besides Titan it has 81 moons.


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