While its mission ended just over three years ago, data from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft continues to help scientists unlock the mysteries of the Saturnian system that contains more than 80 identified moons.
In particular, new and updated research has helped determine the drift rate of Titan away from Saturn, in turn leading to a better understanding of how the ringed planet system formed, while a completely different set of analyses revealed the surface ages of Enceladus and provided key insights into the moon’s potential to harbor life.
Drift, drift, drift away
Moons drift away from their host planets. This is a fact of life for various bodies in the solar system. Earth’s Moon drifts away from it at roughly 3.8 cm (1.5 inches) per year.
Using models to estimate how fast a moon drifts from its planet, the theories assumed that in systems such as Saturn’s, with dozens of moons, the outer moons like Titan migrated outward more slowly than moons closer in because they are farther from their host planet’s gravity. Therefore, scientists calculated the rate at which they believed Saturn’s moon Titan was moving away from it, a calculation that came in at 0.1 cm (0.04 ...