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Pore over the geography of Saturn’s moon Titan with first global geologic map

The first global geologic map of Titan is based on radar and visible-light images from NASA’s Cassini mission, which orbited Saturn from 2004 to 2017. Labels point to several of the named surface features. NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU

A NASA team has created the first global map of Titan, the largest moon of Saturn, showing the different geological features on the distant body. The map was created using data from the Cassini spacecraft, which despite being deliberately destroyed in Saturn’s atmosphere two years ago, continues to provide data that drive scientific insights.

On the map of Titan shown above, as with many maps of Earth, the black lines represent latitude and longitude, marked in this case in increments of 30 degrees. The map uses what is called a Mollweide projection, so objects near the poles retain their relative size to objects near the equator. The shape of the objects at the poles is distorted though. The colors indicate different geological units found on Titan, like broad, flat plains in turquoise or hummocky areas with many hills and some mountains in yellow.

As you can see from the spattering of blue near the northern pole, Titan has many lakes. These lakes aren’t made of water though, as it’s far too cold for liquid water to exist on the moon. Instead, the lakes are composed of liquid methane and ethane. These substances are gas on Earth but liquid in the freezing surface temperatures of 98.29 K (−179 °C or −290 °F). These liquids rain down from Titan’s atmosphere, forming a system similar to our water cycle here on Earth.

“Titan has an active methane-based hydrologic cycle that has shaped a complex geologic landscape, making its surface one of most geologically diverse in the solar system,” Rosaly Lopes, a planetary geologist with NASA and lead author of research used to develop the map, said in a statement. “Despite the different materials, temperatures, and gravity fields between Earth and Titan, many surface features are similar between the two worlds and can be interpreted as being products of the same geologic processes. The map shows that the different geologic terrains have a clear distribution with latitude, globally, and that some terrains cover far more area than others.”

You can download a high-definition version of the map here if you want to see more details. And if you’re hoping for a closer look at this remarkable moon, then good news — NASA is sending a drone there for its Dragonfly mission, set to launch in 2026.

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