Though NASA’s Cassini spacecraft was vaporized in Saturn’s atmosphere back in September (RIP), it’s still revealing fascinating insights about the planet and its moons from beyond the grave. Two new papers using data from the zombie orbiter has found that Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, has “sea level” just like Earth.
At face value, our planet and the Saturnian moon couldn’t be more different. Titan has a green, eerie glow and electric sand. Earth has cats and things that are nice/not mostly terrifying. But oddly enough, Titan is the only other world in the solar system that has stable liquid on its surface.
In December, researchers from Cornell University published two studies in the Geophysical Research Letters — one about Titan’s topography and the other about its bodies of liquid. In the latter, the team describes how they used Cassini data to find that Titan’s bodies of water “follow a constant elevation relative to Titan’s gravitational pull,” according to NASA.
Cassini measurements reveal that Titan’s three seas are somehow connected beneath the surface, and that hydrocarbons flow similarly to the way water does on subterranean Earth. Smaller lakes seem to crop up hundreds of meters above sea level on the alien moon, similar to some lakes on Earth, and there’s “common liquid level” that the researchers were able to find.
“We’re measuring the elevation of a liquid surface on another body 10 astronomical units away from the sun to an accuracy of roughly 40 centimeters,” the study’s lead author Alex Hayes, an assistant professor of astronomy at Cornell, says in a statement. “Because we have such amazing accuracy we were able to see that between these two seas the elevation varied smoothly about 11 meters, relative to the center of mass of Titan, consistent with the expected change in the gravitational potential. We are measuring Titan’s geoid. This is the shape that the surface would take under the influence of gravity and rotation alone, which is the same shape that dominates Earth’s oceans,” said Hayes.
So while none of us are ever actually going to Titan, it’s comforting to know that our planet has a pal out there that it’s a little similar to, even if Titan is kind of like Earth’s Waluigi.
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This is what it looks like to land on Saturn’s moon Titan.