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NASA creates the first topographic map of Titan, Saturn's largest moon

Melissa Grey, @meligrey
May 26, 2013
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Scientists observing Saturn's moon Titan with NASA's Cassini spacecraft have boldly gone where no man has gone before -- visually, anyway. Using radar imagery collected from nine years of Cassini flybys, researchers were able to patch together the first global topographic map of Titan, published in the July 2013 issue of Icarus. Ralph Lorenz, a member of the Cassini radar team at Johns Hopkins, said, "Titan has so much interesting activity -- like flowing liquids and moving sand dunes -- but to understand these processes it's useful to know how the terrain slopes." In particular, understanding the moon's terrain can reveal a lot about its dynamic climate system. Like Earth, Titan's atmosphere is composed primarily of nitrogen, but the liquids and vapors on the moon's surface are made of methane and other organic chemicals integral to the creation of complex life. By studying the relationship between atmosphere and terrain, researchers hope to learn more about the evolution of life in its earliest stages, and inspire curious minds to turn their eyes toward Titan.

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