According to data from NASA’s last Cassini mission, the moon Titan is moving away from Saturn a hundred times faster than previously thought .
Titan is currently 1.2 million kilometers from Saturn, moving away approximately 11 centimeters per year . During ten close flybys between 2006 and 2016, the spacecraft sent radio waves back to Earth.
Theories assumed that in systems like Saturn’s, with dozens of moons, outer moons like Titan migrated outward more slowly than closer moons because they are further away from their host planet’s gravity .
The findings on Titan’s drift rate also provide important confirmation of a new theory that explains and predicts how planets affect the orbits of their moons, explains Valery Lainey , lead author of the work published in Nature Astronomy:
This result brings an important new piece of the puzzle to the much-debated question of the age of Saturn’s system and how its moons formed.
Cassini observed Saturn and its moons for more than 13 years before running out of fuel supply. The mission plunged it into the planet’s atmosphere in September 2017.
Titan is the only known moon with a dense atmosphere . The first person who suggested that Titan could have an atmosphere was the Spanish astronomer Josep Comas i Solà in 1907 due to the effect of darkening at the edge . The origin of the Titanian atmosphere is unclear, but it has been proposed that for much of the history of the Solar System Titan was a world without it, with nitrogen and methane frozen on the surface and looking like a larger version of Triton, the largest moon of Neptune.