Is it possible that NASA's Cassini spacecraft has found evidence of an ocean of water beneath the frozen crust of Saturn's largest moon called Titan?
A team of researchers' findings were reported and released online by the journal Science on Thursday, indicating that they "saw a large amount of squeezing and stretching as the moon orbited Saturn." These discoveries reveal that if Titan were made up of just mounds of stiff rock, the gravitational attraction of Saturn would cause bulges, or solid "tides," on the moon only 3 feet high.
"Cassini's detection of large tides on Titan leads to the almost inescapable conclusion that there is a hidden ocean at depth," said Luciano Iess, the lead author of the report and a Cassini team member at the Sapienza University of Rome, Italy in a news release issued by NASA. "The search for water is an important goal in solar system exploration, and now we've spotted another place where it is abundant."
It takes the Titan moon around 16 days to orbit Saturn, and the team was able to study the moon's shape at different parts of its orbit. "Because Titan is not spherical but slightly elongated like a football, its long axis grew when it was closer to Saturn. Eight days later, when Titan was farther from Saturn, it became less elongated and more nearly round," according to the NASA news release. Cassini measured the gravitational effect of that squeeze and pull.
Mystery of Saturn
Astrologer and author of several books, who studies the planets, explained that Saturn's Moon, Titan, was discovered in 1655 by Dutch astronomer, Christiaan Huygens but he didn't name the moon Titan.
“He called it simply Saturn IV representing the fourth moon of Saturn. It was John Herschel in 1847 who named it Titan for the Titans of Greek mythology. What's most interesting about this name is many scholars believe the word Titan is related to the Greek verb meaning 'to stretch,'” she said.
“And here we're told that NASA made this fascinating discovery of Titan's buried ocean by watching Titan 'squeeze and stretch' in its orbit around Saturn.
The NASA news release also says that "an ocean layer does not have to be huge or deep to create these tides. A liquid layer between the external, deformable shell and a solid mantle would enable Titan to bulge and compress as it orbits Saturn."
Because Titan's surface is mostly made up of water ice, which is plentiful in moons of the outer solar system, scientists think: "Titan's ocean is likely mostly liquid water," according to the NASA news release.
"The presence of a subsurface layer of liquid water at Titan is not itself an indicator for life. Scientists think life is more likely to arise when liquid water is in contact with rock, and these measurements cannot tell whether the ocean bottom is made up of rock or ice. The results have a bigger implication for the mystery of methane replenishment on Titan," according to the NASA news release.
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