Titan in front of Saturn and its rings. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SScI
Saturn's largest moon, Titan, is drifting away from the ringed planet far faster than scientists initially thought.
Why it matters: The discovery could help researchers figure out exactly how old Saturn's system of rings and moons might be.
Details: The new research suggests that Titan likely formed much closer to Saturn than initially thought before migrating out to where it orbits today.
- The moon is moving away from Saturn at a rate of about 4 inches per year, about 100 times faster than expected, according to a study in the journal Nature Astronomy.
- A moon's gravity pulls ever so slightly on the planet it orbits, making the world temporarily bulge out.
- "Over time, the energy created by the bulging and subsiding transfers from the planet to the moon, nudging it farther and farther out," NASA said in a statement.
Between the lines: The new finding pokes holes in some long-standing theories explaining how moons drift away from their planets.
- Earlier hypotheses suggested moons like Titan, which orbit relatively far from their planets, drift away more slowly than inner moons, which are closer to their planet's gravity.
- The new study is evidence that these outer moons can still move at a quick clip as they drift away from their planets.
The big picture: Titan isn't the only moon drifting from its home planet. The Moon is also slowly moving away from Earth at a rate of about 1.5 inches per year.