Saturn is losing one of its moons. According to a recent survey, Titan would indeed be moving away from its host planet … at a speed a hundred times higher than expected.
Titan is currently the largest satellite of Saturn. Discovered by a certain Christian Huygens on March 25, 1655, the moon is indeed 6% larger than the planet Mercury and it is even the second largest natural satellite of the solar system after Ganymede.
But that’s not its only notable feature, and Titan is also the only known satellite to have a dense atmosphere.
Titan, an unusual moon
This atmosphere, consisting of 98.4% nitrogen and 1.6% methane and ethane, has long prevented direct observations. Since the discovery of the moon, however, science has progressed and we now know that its reliefs are close to those of Earth. Even better, the satellite has its own climate, with distinct seasons.
Titan isn’t the best place to go on vacation, though. The moon is indeed very cold and it is regularly swept by winds and methane rains. However, that does not prevent it from occupying a special place in the hearts of astronomers, especially since we know that it is able to support microbial life.
But this is obviously not what interests us now.
As observations have been made in recent decades, astronomers have realized that Titan’s orbit around Saturn tends to gradually expand. They then understood that the moon was moving away from its host planet.
Read also : It’s not yet won for life on Titan
Saturn is losing its moon
In itself, this is not really a surprise. The same is true for the Earth and the Moon. The latter is gradually moving away from our position, at a rate of 3.8 centimeters per year. However, given the gravitational influence of our world, the Earth should not lose its natural satellite until it is destroyed in about six billion years.
However, the relationship between Saturn and Titan is a little different. The friction processes exerted inside the host planet are less compared to those of Earth and Saturn therefore has more difficulty in retaining its satellite.
In other words, Titan is moving away faster from its host planet and this is precisely what highlights the new data published this week by Jim Fuller, an assistant professor of theoretical astrophysics working for Caltech, and his co-authors. .
Read also : Titan now has his card
Removal 100 times faster than expected
Before this study, the consensus evoked a distance of the order of 0.1 cm per year. And therefore a distance less than that of our Moon. However, using another technique to trace Titan’s orbit over ten years, Jimm Fuller and his associates realized that the rate of migration from Saturn’s moon was much faster.
And even a hundred times faster, since the latter would move away from its planet at the rate of 11 centimeters per year. Very concretely, therefore, it also means that Titan should regain his freedom before the Moon. But of course, we won’t see it in our lifetime.
The study can be freely consulted at this address.