Saturn's Moon Titan Drifting Away Faster Than Previously Thought

Saturn's Moon Titan Drifting Away Faster Than Previously Thought”

Titan, the only moon in our solar system with an atmosphere, is pulling away from Saturn at a rate of 11 centimeters (4 inches) per year, according to new research published this week in Nature.

This allows the Moon to gain energy and gradually drift farther away from the planet, at an annual rate of about 1.49 inches (3.8cm).

While orbiting, the gravity of the moon pulls on the host planet, causing a temporary bulge to occur in the planet as it passes, the statement said.

A theoretical astrophysicist and assistant professor at the California Institute of Technology has a theory that both inner and outer moons of planets migrate away at similar rates.

Researchers in their study used two methods to calculate the rate at which Titan's orbit was expanding based on data from Cassini spacecraft.

According to a new study, Saturn's largest moon was "born" fairly close to the planet, but over the course of 4.5 billion years, it has migrated out to where it orbits now, approximately 746,000 miles (1.2 million kilometers) away from the planet. Saturn popped into existence some 4.6 billion years ago, during the very early stages of our solar system's development, but less is known about the origin of its iconic rings and many moons, of which there are over 80.

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"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", explained Valery Lainey, the lead author of the study, in a NASA press release.

Lainey worked on the study as a scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Excitingly, Fuller's model could apply to different types of astrophysical contexts, including binary star systems and exoplanet systems. Sometime between its formation and today, he got a thick ring and a number of moons. "We are convinced that there are many more discoveries to follow as Saturn gives up its secrets".

Dr Nick Cooper, a research fellow at Queen Mary who has worked on the analysis of Cassini data since 2002, said: "It's unbelievable to think that just by painstakingly measuring the positions of Saturn's moons and background stars in our Cassini images for more than a decade, we can learn something about the unseen processes that occur in the interior of the planet Saturn".

The new findings were made by observing independent data sets captured by different instruments aboard the Cassini spacecraft. During ten close flybys between 2006 and 2016, the spacecraft sent radio waves to Earth.

Professor Carl Murray, Professor of Mathematics and Astronomy at Queen Mary, was the only United Kingdom member of the Cassini ISS Team and his research group at Queen Mary was responsible for designing around 12 percent of the more than 400,000 images taken by the Cassini spacecraft, which are continuing to uncover Saturn's secrets in studies like this. Caltech manages JPL for NASA. Researchers studied how the signal's frequency was changed by their interactions with their surroundings to estimate how Titan's orbit evolved.

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