Titan Facts

Titan is the largest moon of Saturn and is also the 2nd largest moon in the Solar System. Titan is larger than Mercury. The name Titan comes from Greek mythological characters called Titans who were the descendants of Gaia and Uranus.

Titan Profile

Interesting Titan Facts

  • Titan was discovered by the Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens in 1655.
  • The name Titan comes from the Greek mythology; it was a term used for the descendants of Gaia and Uranus.
  • Titan is the largest moon of Saturn.
  • It is the second largest moon in the solar system.
  • Titan has a radius of 2,575 km.
  • Titan is 1.2 million km away from Saturn.
  • Titan is larger than the planet Mercury.
  • Titan is covered by a thick orange-golden layer of atmosphere.
  • Titan is very similar to the Earth in terms of surface.
  • Titan shows volcanic activity in which lava is replaced by liquid water.
  • It is composed of ice and rock.
  • Titan is 1.4 billion kms away from the sun.
  • Titan takes 15 days and 22 hours to complete a revolution of Saturn.
  • Titan is tidally locked to Saturn.
  • Atmospheric pressure at the surface of the moon is 60% greater that that on the Earth.
  • Titan has been explored by space crafts such as Pioneer 11, Voyager 1 and 2, Cassini and Huygens.
  • The space craft Huygens has landed on the surface of Titan.
  • Titan does not have a magnetic field.
  • No evidence of life has yet been found on this moon.

History

The discovery of Titan dates back to 1655. It was discovered by the Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens.

Getting inspiration from Galileo Galilei’s discovery of the Galilean satellites, Huygens and his brother worked to build advanced telescopes. This led to the discovery of Titan which was the first moon of Saturn ever discovered.

Overall, it was the sixth moon to be discovered in the Solar system, following the Earth’s moon and Jupiter’s moons Ganymede, Callisto, Io, and Europa.

By 1686, four more moons of Saturn had been discovered which were at that time referred to as Saturn I to Saturn V. This system of nomenclature was later discarded in order to avoid confusion.

Hence the moon was named as Titan by John Herschel, the son of William Herschel.  The name comes from Greek mythology. Titans were the descendants of Uranus and Gaia in Greek Mythology.

Size

Titan is the largest moon of Saturn. It is also the second-largest moon in the entire solar system.

It is only 2% smaller than Ganymede, the largest moon in the solar system. It has a radius of about 2575 kilometers and is more than 50% wider than the Earth’s moon.

The distance between Saturn and titan is about 1.2 million kilometers. Titan is also about 9.5 astronomical units away from the Sun.

Titan is larger than the planet Mercury. Had it been directly revolving around the sun; it would have been considered a planet.

The mass of Titan is however on 40% of that of Mercury as Mercury is a terrestrial planet.

Appearance

The entire surface of the moon Titan is covered by a golden hazy atmosphere. The moon appears to be yellowish-orange in color due to the presence or organonitrogen.

Surface and Composition

The surface of Titan is much younger and smoother as compared to other bodies. This is evident due to the presence of relatively fewer impact craters on its surface.

It is thought to be with 300 million to one billion years old. Most of the surface of Titan consists of bright and dark terrains.

Titan is one of those astronomical bodies to have the most similarities with the earth in terms of surface. However, Titan is much colder than the earth. The temperatures here can get as low as -179 degrees Celsius. At such a temperature the ice acts as a rock.

The surface of Titan also has an abundance of Ethane and Methane. They form river channels and lakes. Titan is the only body in the solar system, other than the earth, to demonstrate such liquid activity on its surface.

Titan also shows an active volcanic activity in which lava is replaced by fluid water in place of molten rock.

The moon is mostly composed of icy and rocky material. The detailed internal structure of the moon is not known; however, it is believed to have a rocky core that is surrounded by thick layers of ice and ammonia-rich liquid water.

Scientists have proposed a model from the data from Cassini-Huygens mission. According to this Titan has five primary layers.

The innermost layer is composed of a rocky core with a diameter of 4,000 Km. Wrapping it is a layer of water ice called ice-VI which is formed due to very high-pressures.

After this comes a layer of salty water followed by the outer crust of water ice.

Titan has an extremely thick layer of atmosphere which makes it difficult to study its surface through imaging.

Magnetic field

Titan is not believed to have any magnetic field. Although it occasionally retains some of Saturn’s magnetic field while passing out of the planet’s magnetosphere.

Distance from Saturn

Titan is 1,221,865 km From Saturn.

Orbit and Rotation

Titan is approximately 1.2 million kilometers away from the planet Saturn. It is about 1.4 billion kilometers or 9.5 astronomical units away from the Sun. Titan takes about 15 days and 22 hours to complete one revolution around Saturn.

It is tidally locked to Saturn that is only one of its sides permanently face the planet. The Earth and its moon demonstrate the same phenomena.

Atmosphere

Titan is quite a unique moon as it is the only one with a thick atmosphere. The atmospheric pressure at the surface of the moon is approximately 60% greater than that on the earth. This is equivalent to swimming 50 ft below the surface of the ocean on earth.

The atmosphere of Titan extends to a height 10 times more than that of the earth. This is due to the fact that the mass of Titan is less and hence the force of gravity is not strong enough to hold the envelope of the atmosphere tightly.

The atmosphere is mostly composed of nitrogen and methane with traces of other carbon compounds. The reaction of these molecules with the sun ultraviolet light results in the formation of other elements important to life on earth such as oxygen and hydrogen.

Some chemical reaction also results in the formation of a thick orange his which is responsible for the moons hazy appearance.

Methane plays an important role in all the chemical processes taking place on the planet.

However, the reason behind the presence of so much methane is yet unknown.

Exploration of Titan

It is quite difficult to study this moon due to the presence of a thick layer of atmosphere present around its surface which gives it an orange appearance.

Pioneer 11 became the first space probe to explore the Saturnian moon system in 1979. Voyager 1 and 2 visited the Saturnian moon System in 1980 and 1981.

A lot of the mission was restricted due to the thick atmosphere. In June 2010, Cassini went as close as 880 km from the surface of Titan and found an abundance of liquid.

Cassini orbiter with the Huygens probe

The space probe Huygens landed on the surface of the moon on 14 January 2005 and provided more detailed photographs and data about the moon.

Several other missions to the moon and its parent planet have been planned and are currently under development.

Potential for Life on Titan

Data collected by the Cassini spacecraft suggest that there is a subsurface ocean present on the moon. The presence of this ocean could also mean a possible site for finding life.

No evidence of life has ever been found on Titan. This is due to the extreme temperature and pressure conditions.

If any life does exist on the moon or may in the future, it would be very different from that on the Earth.

The possibility of finding life forms elsewhere in the universe can never be ruled out.

Titan in Pop Culture

People continue to be fascinated by the planets in the solar system as well as their moons. Titan has been mentioned in several elements of pop culture such as films, television shows, books, video games, etc, either individually, or collectively as a part of the Saturnian moon system.

Titan is also a well-known term on the Earth. Titan is also the name of a famous brand that mainly manufactures wristwatches.

Timeline

  • 1655: Titan is discovered by the astronomer Christiaan Huygens
  • 1686: The moon is named Titan
  • 1979: Pioneer 11 becomes the first spacecraft to explore the Saturnian moon system
  • 1980-1981: Voyager 1 and 2 explore the Saturnian moon system
  • 2005: NASA’s Huygens spacecraft lands on Titan
  • 2010: Cassini conducts a flyby 880 km from Titan

References

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