Saturn’s Moon Titan Drifting Away Faster Than Previously Thought


The new research by scientists at NASA and the Italian Space Agency has implications for the entire Saturn system as well as other planets and moons.


Just as our own Moon floats away from Earth a tiny bit more each year, other moons are doing the same with their host planets. As a moon orbits, its gravity pulls on the planet, causing a temporary bulge in the planet as it passes.

Over time, the energy created by the bulging and subsiding transfers from the planet to the moon, nudging it farther and farther out. Our Moon drifts 1.5 inches (3.8 centimeters) from Earth each year.

Scientists thought they knew the rate at which the giant moon Titan is moving away from Saturn, but they recently made a surprising discovery: Using data from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, they found Titan drifting a hundred times faster than previously understood about 4 inches (11 centimeters) per year.

The findings may help address an age-old question. While scientists know that Saturn formed 4.6 billion years ago in the early days of the solar system, there’s more uncertainty about when the planet’s rings and its system of more than 80 moons formed. Titan is currently 759,000 miles (1.2 million kilometers) from Saturn. The revised rate of its drift suggests that the moon started out much closer to Saturn, which would mean the whole system expanded more quickly than previously believed.

“This result brings an important new piece of the puzzle for the highly debated question of the age of the Saturn system and how its moons formed,” said Valery Lainey, lead author of the work published June 8 in Nature Astronomy. He conducted the research as a scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California before joining the Paris Observatory at PSL University.

To learn more about Saturn, zoom in and give the planet a spin. Use the search function at bottom to learn more about its moons – or just about anything else in the solar system. View the full interactive experience at Eyes on the Solar System. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Making Sense of Moon Migration

The findings on Titan’s rate of drift also provide important confirmation of a new theory that explains and predicts how planets affect their moons’ orbits.

For the last 50 years, scientists have applied the same formulas to estimate how fast a moon drifts from its planet, a rate that can also be used to determine a moon’s age. Those formulas and the classical theories on which they’re based were applied to moons large and small all over the solar system. The theories assumed that in systems such as Saturn’s, with dozens of moons, the outer moons like Titan migrated outward more slowly than moons closer in because they are farther from their host planet’s gravity.

Four years ago, theoretical astrophysicist Jim Fuller, now of Caltech, published research that upended those theories. Fuller’s theory predicted that outer moons can migrate outward at a similar rate to inner moons because they become locked in a different kind of orbit pattern that links to the particular wobble of a planet and slings them outward.

“The new measurements imply that these kind of planet-moon interactions can be more prominent than prior expectations and that they can apply to many systems, such as other planetary moon systems, exoplanets – those outside our solar system – and even binary star systems, where stars orbit each other,” said Fuller, a coauthor of the new paper.

To reach their results, the authors mapped stars in the background of Cassini images and tracked Titan’s position. To confirm their findings, they compared them with an independent dataset: radio science data collected by Cassini. During ten close flybys between 2006 and 2016, the spacecraft sent radio waves to Earth. Scientists studied how the signal’s frequency was changed by their interactions with their surroundings to estimate how Titan’s orbit evolved.

“By using two completely different datasets, we obtained results that are in full agreement, and also in agreement with Jim Fuller’s theory, which predicted a much faster migration of Titan,” said coauthor Paolo Tortora, of Italy’s University of Bologna. Tortora is a member of the Cassini Radio Science team and worked on the research with the support of the Italian Space Agency.

Managed by JPL, Cassini was an orbiter that observed Saturn for more than 13 years before exhausting its fuel supply. The mission plunged it into the planet’s atmosphere in September 2017, in part to protect its moon Enceladus, which Cassini discovered might hold conditions suitable for life.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA (the European Space Agency) and the Italian Space Agency. JPL, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. JPL designed, developed and assembled the Cassini orbiter.

More information about Cassini can be found here:

https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/cassini

News Media Contact

Gretchen McCartney
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
818-393-6215
gretchen.p.mccartney@jpl.nasa.gov

Grey Hautaluoma / Alana Johnson
NASA Headquarters, Washington
202-358-0668 / 202-358-1501
grey.hautaluoma-1@nasa.gov / alana.r.johnson@nasa.gov

2020-105

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    The 340B Drug Pricing Program (340B Program) requires drug manufacturers to sell outpatient drugs at a discount to covered entities—eligible hospitals and other entities participating in the program—in order for their drugs to be covered by Medicaid. Participation in the 340B Program has grown from nearly 9,700 covered entities in 2010 to 12,700 in 2020. The Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) administers the program and oversees covered entities' compliance with 340B Program requirements through annual audits, among other efforts. If audits identify noncompliance with program requirements, HRSA issues findings to covered entities and requires them to take corrective action to continue participating in the 340B Program (see table). Audit Findings Issued to Covered Entities by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) for Fiscal Years 2012-2019, as of September 2020 340B Program findings of noncompliance Number Eligibility of covered entities. Failure to maintain eligibility-related requirements (e.g., covered entities' oversight of their contract pharmacies). 561 Diversion of 340B drugs to ineligible patients. 340B drugs distributed to individuals who are not eligible patients of a covered entity (e.g., patients' health records are not maintained by the covered entity). 546 Duplicate discounts. Prescribed drugs that may have been subject to both the 340B price and a Medicaid rebate. 429 Total 1,536 Source: GAO analysis of information received from HRSA. | GAO-21-107 HRSA officials told GAO that, beginning in fall 2019, the agency started issuing findings only when audit information presents a clear and direct violation of the requirements outlined in the 340B Program statute. HRSA officials explained that guidance, which is used to interpret provisions of the 340B statute for the purposes of promoting program compliance among covered entities, does not provide the agency with appropriate enforcement capability. For example, HRSA officials reported that there were instances among fiscal year 2019 audits in which the agency did not issue findings for a failure to comply with guidance related to contract pharmacies in part because the 340B statute does not address contract pharmacy use and, therefore, there may not have been a clear statutory violation. In addition to audits, HRSA provides education to covered entities about 340B Program requirements and has implemented other efforts to identify noncompliance. For example, HRSA requires all covered entities to recertify their eligibility to participate in the 340B Program annually (e.g., self-attesting to compliance); and uses a self-disclosure process through which covered entities can disclose and correct self-identified instances of noncompliance. Covered entities can realize substantial savings through 340B Program price discounts, enabling them to stretch federal resources to reach more eligible patients and provide more comprehensive services. GAO was asked to provide information on HRSA's efforts to oversee covered entities' compliance with 340B Program requirements. This report describes (1) the audit findings that HRSA issued to address covered entity noncompliance with 340B Program requirements; and (2) other efforts HRSA uses to help ensure that covered entities comply with 340B Program requirements. GAO reviewed documentation, including relevant federal laws and regulations and HRSA's policies, procedures, and guidance, related to 340B Program oversight. GAO also reviewed HRSA data on the number and type of audit findings made from audits finalized during fiscal years 2012 through 2019 as of September 2020—the latest data available at the time of the audit. GAO also interviewed officials from HRSA, agency contractors, and 340B Program stakeholders. GAO provided a draft of this report to HHS for review. The agency provided written and technical comments on the draft, both of which were incorporated as appropriate. For more information, contact Debra A. Draper at (202) 512-7114 or draperd@gao.gov.
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    The Defense Health Agency (DHA)—the agency within the Department of Defense (DOD) that administers DOD's health care program, TRICARE—has identified a number of value-based initiatives for potential implementation with civilian providers and hospitals under the TRICARE program. These initiatives aim to help DHA build a value-based health care delivery system, in which providers are rewarded for value of services provided instead of volume of services provided. For these initiatives, value is generally measured in terms of improved health outcomes, enhanced experience of care for the patient, and reduced health care costs over time. GAO found that DHA has identified 20 value-based initiatives, including a program that makes incentive payments for hospitals that meet certain quality metrics for maternity services and a program that promotes adherence to medication regimens by waiving co-payments, among others. According to DHA officials, the 20 initiatives include five that have been implemented (two complete, three underway); three that will be implemented in the future—two with anticipated 2020 start dates are currently on hold due to the department's need to focus on the response to the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) pandemic and one that is expected to be implemented in January 2021; eight that are still under review, but no decisions have been made about whether and when they might be implemented; and four that were considered but will not be implemented. In fiscal year 2019, DOD offered health care services to approximately 9.6 million eligible beneficiaries worldwide through TRICARE, its regionally structured health care program. Beneficiaries may obtain health care services through DOD's direct care system of military hospitals and clinics or from its purchased care system of civilian providers. DOD contracts with private sector companies—referred to as managed care support contractors—to develop and maintain networks of civilian providers and perform other customer service functions for its purchased care system. The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 (NDAA 2017) required DOD to develop and implement value-based incentive initiatives in its TRICARE contracts. The NDAA 2017 also included a provision that required GAO to review these initiatives. This correspondence describes the initiatives DHA has developed and the status of each, as of June 2020. To do this work, GAO interviewed knowledgeable DHA officials and analyzed available documentation on each initiative, including decision papers, congressional reports, and Federal Register notices. For more information, contact Debra A. Draper at (202) 512-7114 or draperd@gao.gov.
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    In U.S GAO News
    The Navy and Marine Corps continue to face significant readiness challenges that have developed over more than a decade of conflict, budget uncertainty, and reductions in force structure. These challenges prevent the services from reaping the full benefit of their existing forces and attaining the level of readiness called for by the 2018 National Defense Strategy. Both services have made encouraging progress identifying the causes of their readiness decline and have begun efforts to arrest and reverse it (see figure). However, GAO's work shows that addressing these challenges will require years of sustained management attention and resources. Recent events, such as the ongoing pandemic and the fire aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard affect both current and future readiness and are likely to compound and delay the services' readiness rebuilding efforts. Selected Navy and Marine Corps Readiness Challenges Continued progress implementing GAO's prior recommendations will bolster ongoing Navy and Marine Corps efforts to address these readiness challenges. The 2018 National Defense Strategy emphasizes that restoring and retaining readiness is critical to success in the emerging security environment. The Navy and Marine Corps are working to rebuild the readiness of their forces while also growing and modernizing their aging fleets of ships and aircraft. Readiness recovery will take years as the Navy and Marine Corps address their multiple challenges and continue to meet operational demands. This statement provides information on readiness challenges facing (1) the Navy ship and submarine fleet and (2) Navy and Marine Corps aviation. GAO also discusses its prior recommendations on Navy and Marine Corps readiness and the progress that has been made in addressing them. This statement is based on previous work published from 2016 to November 2020—on Navy and Marine Corps readiness challenges, including ship maintenance, sailor training, and aircraft sustainment. GAO also analyzed data updated as of November 2020, as appropriate, and drew from its ongoing work focused on Navy and Marine Corps readiness. GAO made more than 90 recommendations in prior work cited in this statement. The Department of Defense generally concurred with most of GAO's recommendations. Continued attention to these recommendations can assist the Navy and the Marine Corps as they seek to rebuild the readiness of their forces. For more information, contact Diana Maurer at (202) 512-9627 or maurerd@gao.gov.
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  • DHS Employee Morale: Some Improvements Made, but Additional Actions Needed to Strengthen Employee Engagement
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    The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and each of its major components face the same key drivers of employee engagement—as measured by the Office of Personnel Management's Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (OPM FEVS)—as the rest of the federal government (see table). Higher scores on the OPM FEVS indicate that an agency has the conditions that lead to higher employee engagement, a component of morale. Key Drivers of Employee Engagement across the Federal Government, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and within Each DHS Component Agency DHS has implemented department-wide employee engagement initiatives, including efforts to support DHS employees and their families. Additionally, DHS's major operational components, such as U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Transportation Security Administration, among others, have developed annual action plans to improve employee engagement. However, DHS has not issued written guidance on action planning and components do not consistently include key elements in their plans, such as outcome-based performance measures. Establishing required action plan elements through written guidance and monitoring the components to ensure they use measures to assess the results of their actions to adjust, reprioritize, and identify new actions to improve employee engagement would better position DHS to make additional gains in this area. In addition, approval from the DHS Office of the Chief Human Capital Officer (OCHCO) and component leadership for these plans would help ensure department-wide commitment to improving employee engagement. DHS has faced challenges with low employee morale and engagement—an employee's sense of purpose and commitment—since it began operations in 2003. DHS has made some progress in this area, but data from the 2019 OPM FEVS show that DHS continues to rank lowest among similarly-sized federal agencies. GAO has reported that increasing employee engagement can lead to improved agency performance, and it is critical that DHS do so given the importance of its missions. GAO was asked to review DHS employee morale. This report addresses (1) drivers of employee engagement at DHS and (2) the extent that DHS has initiatives to improve employee engagement and ensures effective engagement action planning. To answer these objectives, GAO used regression analyses of 2019 OPM FEVS data to identify the key drivers of engagement at DHS. GAO also reviewed component employee engagement action plans and met with officials from DHS and component human capital offices as well as unions and employee groups. GAO is making three recommendations. DHS OCHCO should, in its anticipated written guidance, establish the elements required in employee engagement action plans and the approval process for these plans. OCHCO should also monitor components' action planning to ensure they review and assess the results of their actions to improve employee engagement. DHS concurred with GAO's recommendations. For more information, contact Chris Currie at (404) 679-1875 or CurrieC@gao.gov.
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    In U.S GAO News
    The roles and responsibilities of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) during a multistate foodborne illness outbreak include analyzing federal foodborne illness surveillance networks to identify outbreaks, leading investigations to determine the food causing the outbreak, and communicating with the public. CDC also works to build and maintain federal, state, territorial, and local capacity to respond to foodborne illness outbreaks by awarding funds to state and local public health agencies and through other initiatives. In identifying and responding to multistate foodborne illness outbreaks, CDC faces challenges related to clinical methods and communication, and it has taken some steps to respond to these challenges. One challenge stems from the increasing clinical use of culture-independent diagnostic tests (CIDTs). CIDTs diagnose foodborne illnesses faster and cheaper than traditional methods, but because they do not create DNA fingerprints that can specify a pathogen, they may reduce CDC's ability to identify an outbreak. A CDC working group recommended in May 2018 that CDC develop a plan to respond to the increasing use of CIDTs. By developing a plan, CDC will have greater assurance of continued access to necessary information. CDC also faces a challenge in balancing the competing needs for timeliness and accuracy in its outbreak communications while maintaining public trust. CDC has an internal framework to guide its communications decisions during outbreaks, and it recognizes that stakeholders would like more transparency about these decisions. By making its framework publicly available, CDC could better foster public trust in its information and guidance during outbreaks. CDC has taken steps to evaluate its performance in identifying and responding to multistate outbreaks. Specifically, CDC has developed general strategic goals (see fig.) and taken initial steps to develop performance measures. However, CDC has not yet established other elements of a performance assessment system—an important component of effective program management. CDC's Use of Elements of Program Performance Assessment Systems In particular, CDC has not set specific performance goals, used performance measures to track progress, or conducted a program evaluation of its multistate foodborne illness outbreak investigation efforts. By implementing all elements of a performance assessment system, CDC could better assess its progress toward meeting its goals, identify potentially underperforming areas, and use that information to improve its performance. CDC has estimated that each year, one in six people in the United States gets a foodborne illness, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die. CDC data show increases in the number of reported multistate foodborne illness outbreaks—groups of two or more linked cases in multiple states—in recent years. Such outbreaks are responsible for a disproportionate number of hospitalizations and deaths, compared with single-state outbreaks. GAO was asked to review CDC's response to multistate foodborne illness outbreaks. This report examines (1) CDC's roles and responsibilities, (2) challenges that CDC faces and the extent to which it has addressed these challenges, and (3) the extent to which CDC evaluates its performance. GAO reviewed agency documents and data; conducted site visits and case studies; and interviewed federal, state, and local public health officials, as well as representatives of stakeholder groups. GAO is recommending that CDC (1) develop a plan to respond to the increasing use of CIDTs, (2) make publicly available its decision-making framework for communicating about multistate foodborne illness outbreaks, and (3) implement all the elements of a performance assessment system. CDC concurred with all three recommendations. For more information, contact Steve D. Morris at (202) 512-3841 or morriss@gao.gov.
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    In U.S GAO News
    In 2016, the Federal Assets Sale and Transfer Act (FASTA) created the independent Public Buildings Reform Board (the Board) to support a new, three-round process for disposing of unneeded federal real property. The first of these rounds required the Board to identify and recommend at least five high-value disposal candidates with a total market value between $500 and $750 million. To identify these properties, the General Services Administration (GSA) collected and evaluated agency recommendations; a GSA-hired contractor analyzed real property data; and the Board held public hearings, visited properties, and met with federal officials. This process resulted in identifying 44 properties. The Board then took various steps to evaluate the 44 properties and recommended 12 final disposal candidates that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) approved in January 2020. (See figure.) However, the Board did not fully document the process used to evaluate these candidates. For example, the Board's rationales for why individual candidates were or were not recommended were vague or incomplete. Full documentation on the decision-making process would better position stakeholders, including members of Congress, to understand the Board's rationales, especially for decisions with financial implications. Process Used by Stakeholders for Identifying and Recommending High-Value Federal Real Property for Potential Disposal Candidates According to Board and selected federal agency officials, FASTA made it easier for agencies to pursue high-value property disposals due, in part, to exemptions from some requirements, such as having to first offer properties to federal, state, or local agencies. However, FASTA's effect on other long-standing challenges, including funding to prepare properties for disposal, is unclear. For example, FASTA created a dedicated funding source to implement Board recommendations including those related to covering disposal costs, such as relocating agency staff. However, officials expressed concern that access to these funds is not automatic and must go through the annual appropriations process, which rarely coincides with the timing of these projects. The administration proposed legislative language to make proceeds from the sale of assets in fiscal year 2021 available without additional actions by Congress. However, as of January 2021, legislation containing the proposed language had not been enacted. This report discusses elements Congress may wish to evaluate when determining whether to grant such budget-related flexibility. GAO designated federal real property management, including the disposal of properties, as a high-risk area in 2003. FASTA included a provision for GAO to review the recommendations and selection processes such as those used in the first round of identifying and recommending high-value properties as candidates for disposal. This report examines: (1) how stakeholders implemented FASTA to identify and evaluate high-value properties as potential disposal candidates and (2) stakeholder views on the extent to which FASTA helped agencies with the disposal of unneeded high-value properties and addressed long-standing challenges in disposing of federal properties. GAO reviewed FASTA and analyzed documents from the Board, OMB, GSA, and selected 14 federal agencies to examine the processes they used and the challenges they encountered under the FASTA process. Agencies were selected based on their recommendations of high-value properties and inclusion on the Board's final list, among other things. GAO also interviewed officials from the Board, OMB, GSA, and selected federal agencies. GAO is recommending that the Board fully document its process for recommending FASTA disposal candidates, including the rationales behind disposal decisions. The Board noted plans to develop more documentation of its future disposal decisions. For more information, contact David Trimble at (202) 512-2834 or trimbled@gao.gov.
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    In U.S GAO News
    Under the Jones Act, vessels carrying merchandise between two points in the U.S. must be built and registered in the United States. Developers are planning a number of offshore wind projects along the U.S. east coast, where many states have set targets for offshore wind energy production. Stakeholders described two approaches to using vessels to install offshore wind energy projects in the U.S. Either approach may lead to the construction of new vessels that comply with the Jones Act. Under one approach, a Jones Act-compliant wind turbine installation vessel (WTIV) would carry components from a U.S. port to the site and also install the turbines. WTIVs have a large deck, legs that allow the vessel to lift out of the water, and a tall crane to lift and place turbines. Stakeholders told GAO there are currently no Jones Act-compliant vessels capable of serving as a WTIV. One company, however, has announced a plan to build one. Under the second approach, a foreign-flag WTIV would install the turbines with components carried to the site from U.S. ports by Jones Act-compliant feeder vessels (see figure). While some potential feeder vessels exist, stakeholders said larger ones would probably need to be built to handle the large turbines developers would likely use. Example of an Offshore Wind Installation in U.S. Waters Using a Foreign-Flag Installation Vessel and Jones Act-Compliant Feeder Vessels Stakeholders identified multiple challenges—which some federal programs address—associated with constructing and using Jones Act-compliant vessels for offshore wind installations. For example, stakeholders said that obtaining investments in Jones Act-compliant WTIVs—which may cost up to $500 million—has been challenging, in part due to uncertainty about the timing of federal approval for projects. According to officials at the Department of the Interior, which is responsible for approving offshore wind projects, the Department plans to issue a decision on the nation's first large-scale offshore wind project in December 2020. Some stakeholders said that if this project is approved, investors may be more willing to move forward with vessel investments. While stakeholders also said port infrastructure limitations could pose challenges to using Jones Act-compliant vessels for offshore wind, offshore wind developers and state agencies have committed to make port investments. Offshore wind, a significant potential source of energy in the United States, requires a number of oceangoing vessels for installation and other tasks. Depending on the use, these vessels may need to comply with the Jones Act. Because Jones Act-compliant vessels are generally more expensive to build and operate than foreign-flag vessels, using such vessels may increase the costs of offshore wind projects. Building such vessels may also lead to some economic benefits for the maritime industry. A provision was included in statute for GAO to review offshore wind vessels. This report examines (1) approaches to use of vessels that developers are considering for offshore wind, consistent with Jones Act requirements, and the extent to which such vessels exist, and (2) the challenges industry stakeholders have identified associated with constructing and using such vessels to support U.S. offshore wind, and the actions federal agencies have taken to address these challenges. GAO analyzed information on vessels that could support offshore wind, reviewed relevant laws and studies, and interviewed officials from federal agencies and industry stakeholders selected based on their involvement in ongoing projects and recommendations from others. For more information, contact Andrew Von Ah at (202) 512-2834 or vonaha@gao.gov.
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