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 (or Saturn VI) is the largest moon of Saturn. It is the only natural satellite known to have a dense atmosphere, and the only object other than Earth for which 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 has a diameter 50% larger than Earth's natural satellite, the Moon, and is 80% more massive. It is the second-largest moon in the Solar System, after Jupiter's moon Ganymede, and is larger by volume than the smallest planet, Mercury, although only 40% as massive. Discovered in 1655 by the Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens, Titan was the first known moon of Saturn, and the fifth known satellite of another planet.

Titan is primarily composed of water ice and rocky material. Much as with Venus prior to the Space Age, the dense, opaque atmosphere prevented understanding of Titan's surface until new information accumulated with the arrival of 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 viewed as an analogy to Earth's water cycle, although at a much lower temperature. On June 23, 2014, NASA announced strong evidence that nitrogen in the atmosphere of Titan came from materials in the Oort cloud, associated with comets, and not from the materials that formed Saturn earlier. On July 2, 2014, NASA reported the ocean inside Titan may be "as salty as the Earth's Dead Sea". On September 3, 2014, NASA reported studies suggesting methane rainfall on Titan may interact with a layer of icy materials underground, called an "alkanofer," to produce ethane and propane that may eventually feed into rivers and lakes.

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