Titan

Titan

Saturn's largest moon is the only planetary satellite in the Solar System with a dense atmosphere.

In the early 1980s, the Voyager 1 and 2 probes took the first close-ups of the permanent orange haze that hides Titan's surface.

In early 2005 the European Huygens probe parachuted through Titan's nitrogen-rich atmosphere and landed on the moon's surface while the Cassini spacecraft studied the moon from orbit. Images and other measurements from the craft show a world with riverbeds, liquid methane lakes and cryovolcanoes (ice volcanoes).

Photo: Titan with Saturn in the background taken by the Cassini probe (NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute)

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Titan

About Titan

Titan is the only moon with a dense atmosphere.

About Titan

Titan is the largest moon of Saturn. It is the only moon known to have a dense atmosphere, and the only object in space other than Earth where clear evidence of stable bodies of surface liquid has been found.

Titan is the sixth ellipsoidal moon from Saturn. Frequently described as a planet-like moon, Titan is 50% larger than Earth's Moon, and it is 80% more massive. It is the second-largest moon in the Solar System, after Jupiter's moon Ganymede, and is larger than the smallest planet, Mercury, but only 40% as massive. Discovered in 1655 by the Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens, Titan was the first known moon of Saturn, and the sixth known planetary satellite. Titan orbits Saturn at 20 Saturn radii. From Titan's surface Saturn subtends an arc of 5.7 degrees and would appear 11.4 times larger in the sky than the Moon from Earth.

Titan is primarily composed of water ice and rocky material. Much as with Venus before the Space Age, the dense opaque atmosphere prevented understanding of Titan's surface until new information from the Cassini–Huygens mission in 2004, including the discovery of liquid hydrocarbon lakes in Titan's polar regions. The geologically young surface is generally smooth, with few impact craters, although mountains and several possible cryovolcanoes have been found.

The atmosphere of Titan is largely nitrogen; minor components lead to the formation of methane and ethane clouds and nitrogen-rich organic smog. The climate—including wind and rain—creates surface features similar to those of Earth, such as dunes, rivers, lakes, seas (probably of liquid methane and ethane), and deltas, and is dominated by seasonal weather patterns as on Earth. With its liquids (both surface and subsurface) and robust nitrogen atmosphere, Titan's methane cycle is analogous to Earth's water cycle, at the much lower temperature of about 94 K (−179.2 °C).

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