(Image Credit: NASA / JPL / University of Arizona)
When camping outside in an unfamiliar wilderness, two essential tools one needs to consider packing are a map, and a compass. While the former is wise so one knows the overall layout of an area, the latter can help you determine which direction the final destination lies.
While a GPS system may sound like a “no brainer” solution for most worlds orbiting our Sol star, it may present a problem for Saturn’s methane moon, Titan.
(Planetary News) Since the acquisition of the first SAR swath across Titan in October, 2005, there have been 19 regions on Titan that have been imaged more than once by the RADAR instrument. When the RADAR team assumed that Titan’s rotation was synchronous — that is, that it rotates precisely once with each orbit around Saturn — features seen during one flyby were observably offset when imaged during another flyby, by as much as 30 kilometers (19 miles). […]
The measured offset of the surface features, relative to the prediction for synchronous rotation, means that, over the time period measured in the Cassini data (October 2005 to May 2007), Titan’s surface was shifting by 0.36 degrees per year. For there to be this rapid of a shift in the position of Titan’s surface requires the surface to be able to move freely about the rest of the moon, sliding around atop a liquid interior ocean.
If humanity ever settles upon that cloaked moon, they are going to have to figure out a way to pin point positions accurately, lest ships miss drop supplies (and colonists) all over Titan’s hazy surface.