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Illustrated Guide to Astronomy

Titan


Titan is Saturn’s largest moon and the second largest moon in our solar system. Titan is special because it is the only moon we have observed that has a thick atmosphere with clouds.

Titan
Titan

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Titan is the largest moon of Saturn and the second largest moon in our solar system. The only moon larger is the Jovian moon, Ganymede. Titan is 50% larger than our Moon and larger than the planet Mercury. Titan is composed of ice and rock. Titan is of particular interest to scientists as it is the only moon with a dense atmosphere and clouds. Its atmosphere is composed of nitrogen and methane, with traces of other hydrocarbons.

Titan was discovered by the Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens after he was inspired by the discovery of the four Jovian moons by Galileo Galilei. He discovered the moon on March 25, 1655 making it the sixth moon ever discovered. The moon was originally named after a number, but was renamed Titan by John Herschel after the Greek divine being.

Titan is tidally locked to Saturn, like our own Moon, meaning that one side faces Saturn as it orbits the planet. This also makes its orbital period the same as its rotational period: Titan's day is the same length as its year. Scientists have found rivers and lakes of a liquid on the moon. The surface is far too cold for liquid water to exist. Scientists think that these bodies of liquid could be composed of liquid hydrocarbons.

The Hubble space telescope took the first recorded pictures of the moon. It was difficult to observe the moon due to the thick clouds that covered the surface. The first visit by a probe to the Saturn system was Pioneer 11 in 1979. In 1997, NASA launched a Cassini spacecraft to investigate further. Cassini took nearly seven years to reach the Saturn system. It was sent there to study Saturn, its rings, and Saturn’s moons. Part of the mission was to release a lander onto Titan. The spacecraft released the European-built Huygen probe, which fell through the Titan atmosphere. Its descent took two and a half hours in total, and was the first spacecraft to land in the outer solar system.

Titan Facts

  • Orbital Period: 15.95 Earth days
  • Rotation Period: 15.95 Earth days
  • Diameter: 5,150 km
  • Distance from Saturn: 1,221,870 km
  • Strength of Gravity: 1.4 N/kg
  • Average Temperature: -179.5°C ( -291.1°F)
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