WASHINGTON The first radar images of Titan, the cloud-shrouded moon of Saturn, revealed a relatively young, active surface, NASA said Friday (Oct. 29).
Radar images captured during a flyby earlier in the week by NASA's Cassini probe of Saturn mapped about 1 percent of Titan's surface. The spacecraft flew as close as 994 miles from the moon's surface, capturing surface features down to 300 meters across.
"Titan is a dynamic place with complex geologic processes that may be shaping its surface," Jonathan Lunine, Cassini interdisciplinary scientist, said in a statement. "Its surface may well be covered with organic materials, but we still don't know how much of the surface is liquid or solid. The fact that we have seen few craters tells us that Titan's surface is young."
Scientists are particularly interested in Titan because it is the only satellite in the solar system with an atmosphere. Its atmosphere is thought to be mostly methane, but early readings from the flyby indicated that clouds over Titan's south pole may contain other chemicals.
Either way, the probe is expected to help scientists shed light on the origins of life on Earth.
NASA will attempt to land a small craft on Titan's surface later this year.