Essay On Saturns Largest Moon Titan

Not to be confused with Titania (moon) or Triton (moon).

For other uses, see Titan (disambiguation).

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 gravitationally rounded 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 (after Earth's Moon and the four Galilean moons of Jupiter). Titan orbits Saturn at 20 Saturn radii. From Titan's surface, Saturn subtends an arc of 5.09 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).



Titan was discovered on March 25, 1655 by the Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens.[10][11] Huygens was inspired by Galileo's discovery of Jupiter's four largest moons in 1610 and his improvements in telescope technology. Christiaan, with the help of his older brother Constantijn Huygens, Jr., began building telescopes around 1650 and discovered the first observed moon orbiting Saturn with one of the telescopes they built.[12] It was the sixth moon to be discovered, after Earth's Moon and the Galilean moons of Jupiter.[13]


Huygens named his discovery Saturni Luna (or Luna Saturni, Latin for "Saturn's moon"), publishing in the 1655 tract De Saturni Luna Observatio Nova (A New Observation of Saturn's Moon). After Giovanni Domenico Cassini published his discoveries of four more moons of Saturn between 1673 and 1686, astronomers fell into the habit of referring to these and Titan as Saturn I through V (with Titan then in fourth position). Other early epithets for Titan include "Saturn's ordinary satellite".[14] Titan is officially numbered Saturn VI because after the 1789 discoveries the numbering scheme was frozen to avoid causing any more confusion (Titan having borne the numbers II and IV as well as VI). Numerous small moons have been discovered closer to Saturn since then.

The name Titan, and the names of all seven satellites of Saturn then known, came from John Herschel (son of William Herschel, discoverer of two other Saturnian moons, Mimas and Enceladus), in his 1847 publication Results of Astronomical Observations Made during the Years 1834, 5, 6, 7, 8, at the Cape of Good Hope.[15][16] He suggested the names of the mythological Titans (Ancient Greek: Τῑτάν), brothers and sisters of Cronus, the Greek Saturn. In Greek mythology, the Titans were a race of powerful deities, descendants of Gaia and Uranus, that ruled during the legendary Golden Age.

Orbit and rotation[edit]

Titan orbits Saturn once every 15 days and 22 hours. Like the Moon and many of the satellites of the giant planets, its rotational period (its day) is identical to its orbital period; Titan is tidally locked in synchronous rotation with Saturn, and permanently shows one face to the planet, so Titan's "day" is equal to its orbit period. Because of this, there is a sub-Saturnian point on its surface, from which the planet would always appear to hang directly overhead. Longitudes on Titan are measured westward, starting from the meridian passing through this point.[17] Its orbital eccentricity is 0.0288, and the orbital plane is inclined 0.348 degrees relative to the Saturnian equator.[2] Viewed from Earth, Titan reaches an angular distance of about 20 Saturn radii (just over 1,200,000 kilometers (750,000 mi)) from Saturn and subtends a disk 0.8 arcseconds in diameter.

The small, irregularly shaped satellite Hyperion is locked in a 3:4 orbital resonance with Titan. A "slow and smooth" evolution of the resonance—in which Hyperion migrated from a chaotic orbit—is considered unlikely, based on models. Hyperion probably formed in a stable orbital island, whereas the massive Titan absorbed or ejected bodies that made close approaches.[18]

Bulk characteristics[edit]

Titan is 5,151 kilometers (3,201 mi) in diameter,[3] 1.06 times that of the planet Mercury, 1.48 that of the Moon, and 0.40 that of Earth. Before the arrival of Voyager 1 in 1980, Titan was thought to be slightly larger than Ganymede (diameter 5,262 kilometers (3,270 mi)) and thus the largest moon in the Solar System; this was an overestimation caused by Titan's dense, opaque atmosphere, which extends many kilometres above its surface and increases its apparent diameter.[19] Titan's diameter and mass (and thus its density) are similar to those of the Jovian moons Ganymede and Callisto.[20] Based on its bulk density of 1.88 g/cm3, Titan's composition is half water ice and half rocky material. Though similar in composition to Dione and Enceladus, it is denser due to gravitational compression. It has a mass 1/4226 that of Saturn, making it the largest moon of the gas giants relative to the mass of its primary. It is second in terms of relative diameter of moons to a gas giant; Titan being 1/22.609 of Saturn's diameter, Triton is larger in diameter relative to Neptune at 1/18.092.

Titan is likely differentiated into several layers with a 3,400-kilometer (2,100 mi) rocky center surrounded by several layers composed of different crystalline forms of ice.[21] Its interior may still be hot enough for a liquid layer consisting of a "magma" composed of water and ammonia between the ice Ih crust and deeper ice layers made of high-pressure forms of ice. The presence of ammonia allows water to remain liquid even at a temperature as low as 176 K (−97 °C) (for eutectic mixture with water).[22] The Cassini probe discovered the evidence for the layered structure in the form of natural extremely-low-frequency radio waves in Titan's atmosphere. Titan's surface is thought to be a poor reflector of extremely-low-frequency radio waves, so they may instead be reflecting off the liquid–ice boundary of a subsurface ocean.[23] Surface features were observed by the Cassini spacecraft to systematically shift by up to 30 kilometers (19 mi) between October 2005 and May 2007, which suggests that the crust is decoupled from the interior, and provides additional evidence for an interior liquid layer.[24] Further supporting evidence for a liquid layer and ice shell decoupled from the solid core comes from the way the gravity field varies as Titan orbits Saturn.[25] Comparison of the gravity field with the RADAR-based topography observations[26] also suggests that the ice shell may be substantially rigid.[27][28]


The moons of Jupiter and Saturn are thought to have formed through co-accretion, a similar process to that believed to have formed the planets in the Solar System. As the young gas giants formed, they were surrounded by discs of material that gradually coalesced into moons. Whereas Jupiter possesses four large satellites in highly regular, planet-like orbits, Titan overwhelmingly dominates Saturn's system and possesses a high orbital eccentricity not immediately explained by co-accretion alone. A proposed model for the formation of Titan is that Saturn's system began with a group of moons similar to Jupiter's Galilean satellites, but that they were disrupted by a series of giant impacts, which would go on to form Titan. Saturn's mid-sized moons, such as Iapetus and Rhea, were formed from the debris of these collisions. Such a violent beginning would also explain Titan's orbital eccentricity.[29]

In 2014, analysis of Titan's atmospheric nitrogen suggested that it has possibly been sourced from material similar to that found in the Oort cloud and not from sources present during co-accretion of materials around Saturn.[30]


Main article: Atmosphere of Titan

Titan is the only known moon with a significant atmosphere,[31] and its atmosphere is the only nitrogen-rich dense atmosphere in the Solar System aside from Earth's. Observations of it made in 2004 by Cassini suggest that Titan is a "super rotator", like Venus, with an atmosphere that rotates much faster than its surface.[32] Observations from the Voyager space probes have shown that Titan's atmosphere is denser than Earth's, with a surface pressure about 1.45 atm. It is also about 1.19 times as massive as Earth's overall, or about 7.3 times more massive on a per surface area basis. Opaque haze layers block most visible light from the Sun and other sources and obscures Titan's surface features.[34] Titan's lower gravity means that its atmosphere is far more extended than Earth's.[35] The atmosphere of Titan is opaque at many wavelengths and as a result, a complete reflectance spectrum of the surface is impossible to acquire from orbit.[36] It was not until the arrival of the Cassini–Huygens spacecraft in 2004 that the first direct images of Titan's surface were obtained.[37]

Titan's atmospheric composition is nitrogen (97%), methane (2.7±0.1%), hydrogen (0.1–0.2%) with trace amounts of other gases. There are trace amounts of other hydrocarbons, such as ethane, diacetylene, methylacetylene, acetylene and propane, and of other gases, such as cyanoacetylene, hydrogen cyanide, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, cyanogen, argon and helium.[8] The hydrocarbons are thought to form in Titan's upper atmosphere in reactions resulting from the breakup of methane by the Sun's ultraviolet light, producing a thick orange smog.[38] Titan spends 95% of its time within Saturn's magnetosphere, which may help shield it from the solar wind.[39]

Energy from the Sun should have converted all traces of methane in Titan's atmosphere into more complex hydrocarbons within 50 million years—a short time compared to the age of the Solar System. This suggests that methane must be replenished by a reservoir on or within Titan itself.[40] The ultimate origin of the methane in its atmosphere may be its interior, released via eruptions from cryovolcanoes.[41][42][43][44][45]

On April 3, 2013, NASA reported that complex organic chemicals, collectively called tholins, likely arise on Titan, based on studies simulating the atmosphere of Titan.[46]

On June 6, 2013, scientists at the IAA-CSIC reported the detection of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in the upper atmosphere of Titan.[47]

On September 30, 2013, propene was detected in the atmosphere of Titan by NASA's Cassini spacecraft, using its composite infrared spectrometer (CIRS).[48] This is the first time propene has been found on any moon or planet other than Earth and is the first chemical found by the CIRS. The detection of propene fills a mysterious gap in observations that date back to NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft's first close flyby of Titan in 1980, during which it was discovered that many of the gases that make up Titan's brown haze were hydrocarbons, theoretically formed via the recombination of radicals created by the Sun's ultraviolet photolysis of methane.[38]

On October 24, 2014, methane was found in polar clouds on Titan.[49][50]


Main article: Climate of Titan

Titan's surface temperature is about 94 K (−179.2 °C). At this temperature, water ice has an extremely low vapor pressure, so the little water vapor present appears limited to the stratosphere.[51] Titan receives about 1% as much sunlight as Earth.[52] Before sunlight reaches the surface, about 90% has been absorbed by the thick atmosphere, leaving only 0.1% of the amount of light Earth receives.[53]

Atmospheric methane creates a greenhouse effect on Titan's surface, without which Titan would be far colder.[54] Conversely, haze in Titan's atmosphere contributes to an anti-greenhouse effect by reflecting sunlight back into space, cancelling a portion of the greenhouse effect and making its surface significantly colder than its upper atmosphere.[55]

Titan's clouds, probably composed of methane, ethane or other simple organics, are scattered and variable, punctuating the overall haze.[19] The findings of the Huygens probe indicate that Titan's atmosphere periodically rains liquid methane and other organic compounds onto its surface.[57]

Clouds typically cover 1% of Titan's disk, though outburst events have been observed in which the cloud cover rapidly expands to as much as 8%. One hypothesis asserts that the southern clouds are formed when heightened levels of sunlight during the southern summer generate uplift in the atmosphere, resulting in convection. This explanation is complicated by the fact that cloud formation has been observed not only after the southern summer solstice but also during mid-spring. Increased methane humidity at the south pole possibly contributes to the rapid increases in cloud size.[58] It was summer in Titan's southern hemisphere until 2010, when Saturn's orbit, which governs Titan's motion, moved Titan's northern hemisphere into the sunlight.[59] When the seasons switch, it is expected that ethane will begin to condense over the south pole.[60]

Surface features[edit]

See also: List of geological features on Titan

The surface of Titan has been described as "complex, fluid-processed, [and] geologically young".[61] Titan has been around since the Solar System's formation, but its surface is much younger, between 100 million and 1 billion years old. Geological processes may have reshaped Titan's surface.[62] Titan's atmosphere is twice as thick as Earth's, making it difficult for astronomical instruments to image its surface in the visible light spectrum.[63] The Cassini spacecraft used infrared instruments, radar altimetry and synthetic aperture radar (SAR) imaging to map portions of Titan during its close fly-bys. The first images revealed a diverse geology, with both rough and smooth areas. There are features that may be volcanic in origin, disgorging water mixed with ammonia onto the surface. There is also evidence that Titan's ice shell may be substantially rigid,[27][28] which would suggest little geologic activity.[64]

There are also streaky features, some of them hundreds of kilometers in length, that appear to be caused by windblown particles.[65][66] Examination has also shown the surface to be relatively smooth; the few objects that seem to be impact craters appeared to have been filled in, perhaps by raining hydrocarbons or volcanoes. Radar altimetry suggests height variation is low, typically no more than 150 meters. Occasional elevation changes of 500 meters have been discovered and Titan has mountains that sometimes reach several hundred meters to more than 1 kilometer in height.[67]

Titan's surface is marked by broad regions of bright and dark terrain. These include Xanadu, a large, reflective equatorial area about the size of Australia. It was first identified in infrared images from the Hubble Space Telescope in 1994, and later viewed by the Cassini spacecraft. The convoluted region is filled with hills and cut by valleys and chasms.[68] It is criss-crossed in places by dark lineaments—sinuous topographical features resembling ridges or crevices. These may represent tectonic activity, which would indicate that Xanadu is geologically young. Alternatively, the lineaments may be liquid-formed channels, suggesting old terrain that has been cut through by stream systems.[69] There are dark areas of similar size elsewhere on Titan, observed from the ground and by Cassini; at least one of these, Ligeia Mare, Titan's second-largest sea, is almost a pure methane sea.[70][71]

Titan mosaic from a Cassini flyby. The large dark region is Shangri-La.
Titan in false color showing surface details and atmosphere. Xanadu is the bright region at the bottom-center.
Titan globe, a mosaic of infrared images with nomenclature.
Titan composite image in infrared. It features the dark, dune-filled regions Fensal (north) and Aztlan (south).


Main article: Lakes of Titan

The possibility of hydrocarbon seas on Titan was first suggested based on Voyager 1 and 2 data that showed Titan to have a thick atmosphere of approximately the correct temperature and composition to support them, but direct evidence was not obtained until 1995 when data from Hubble and other observations suggested the existence of liquid methane on Titan, either in disconnected pockets or on the scale of satellite-wide oceans, similar to water on Earth.[72]

The Cassini mission confirmed the former hypothesis. When the probe arrived in the Saturnian system in 2004, it was hoped that hydrocarbon lakes or oceans would be detected from the sunlight reflected off their surface, but no specular reflections were initially observed.[73] Near Titan's south pole, an enigmatic dark feature named Ontario Lacus was identified[74] (and later confirmed to be a lake).[75] A possible shoreline was also identified near the pole via radar imagery.[76] Following a flyby on July 22, 2006, in which the Cassini spacecraft's radar imaged the northern latitudes (that were then in winter), several large, smooth (and thus dark to radar) patches were seen dotting the surface near the pole.[77] Based on the observations, scientists announced "definitive evidence of lakes filled with methane on Saturn's moon Titan" in January 2007.[78][79] The Cassini–Huygens team concluded that the imaged features are almost certainly the long-sought hydrocarbon lakes, the first stable bodies of surface liquid found outside Earth.[78] Some appear to have channels associated with liquid and lie in topographical depressions.[78] The liquid erosion features appear to be a very recent occurrence: channels in some regions have created surprisingly little erosion, suggesting erosion on Titan is extremely slow, or some other recent phenomena may have wiped out older riverbeds and landforms.[62] Overall, the Cassini radar observations have shown that lakes cover only a small percentage of the surface, making Titan much drier than Earth.[80] Most of the lakes are concentrated near the poles (where the relative lack of sunlight prevents evaporation), but several long-standing hydrocarbon lakes in the equatorial desert regions have also been discovered, including one near the Huygens landing site in the Shangri-La region, which is about half the size of Utah's Great Salt Lake. The equatorial lakes are probably "oases", i.e. the likely supplier is underground aquifers.[81]

In June 2008, the Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer on Cassini confirmed the presence of liquid ethane beyond doubt in Ontario Lacus.[82] On December 21, 2008, Cassini passed directly over Ontario Lacus and observed specular reflection in radar. The strength of the reflection saturated the probe's receiver, indicating that the lake level did not vary by more than 3 mm (implying either that surface winds were minimal, or the lake's hydrocarbon fluid is viscous).[83][84]

Specular reflections are indicative of a smooth, mirror-like surface, so the observation corroborated the inference of the presence of a large liquid body drawn from radar imaging. The observation was made soon after the north polar region emerged from 15 years of winter darkness.

On July 8, 2009, Cassini's VIMS observed a specular reflection indicative of a smooth, mirror-like surface, off what today is called Jingpo Lacus, a lake in the north polar region shortly after the area emerged from 15 years of winter darkness.[85][86]

Early radar measurements made in July 2009 and January 2010 indicated that Ontario Lacus was extremely shallow, with an average depth of 0.4–3 m, and a maximum depth of 3 to 7 m (9.8 to 23.0 ft).[87] In contrast, the northern hemisphere's Ligeia Mare was initially mapped to depths exceeding 8 m, the maximum discernable by the radar instrument and the analysis techniques of the time.[87] Later science analysis, released in 2014, more fully mapped the depths of Titan's three methane seas and showed depths of more than 200 meters (660 ft). Ligeia Mare averages from 20 to 40 m (66 to 131 ft) in depth, while other parts of Ligeia did not register any radar reflection at all, indicating a depth of more than 200 m (660 ft). While only the second largest of Titan's methane seas, Ligeia "contains enough liquid methane to fill three Lake Michigans."[88]

During a flyby on 26 September 2012, Cassini's radar detected in Titan's northern polar region what is likely a river with a length of more than 400 kilometers. It has been compared with the much larger Nile river on Earth. This feature is connected to Ligeia Mare.[75] Later, a paper ("Liquid-filled Canyons on Titan"[89]) published on Geophysical Research Letters on 9 August 2016 reported about the May 2013 Cassini RADAR altimeter observation of Vid Flumina channels, defined as a drainage network connected to Titan's second largest hydrocarbon sea, Ligeia Mare. Analysis of the received altimeter echoes showed that the channels are located in deep (up to ~570 m), steep-sided, canyons and have strong specular surface reflections that indicate they are currently liquid filled. Elevations of the liquid in these channels are at the same level as Ligeia Mare to within a vertical precision of about 0.7 m, consistent with the interpretation of drowned river valleys. Specular reflections are also observed in lower order tributaries elevated above the level of Ligeia Mare, consistent with drainage feeding into the main channel system. This is likely the first direct evidence of the presence of liquid channels on Titan and the first observation of hundred-meter deep canyons on Titan. Vid Flumina canyons are thus drowned by the sea but there are a few isolated observations to attest to the presence of surface liquids standing at higher elevations.

During six flybys of Titan from 2006 to 2011, Cassini gathered radiometric tracking and optical navigation data from which investigators could roughly infer Titan's changing shape. The density of Titan is consistent with a body that is about 60% rock and 40% water. The team's analyses suggest that Titan's surface can rise and fall by up to 10 metres during each orbit. That degree of warping suggests that Titan's interior is relatively deformable, and that the most likely model of Titan is one in which an icy shell dozens of kilometres thick floats atop a global ocean.[90] The team's findings, together with the results of previous studies, hint that Titan's ocean may lie no more than 100 kilometers (62 mi) below its surface.[90][91] On July 2, 2014, NASA reported the ocean inside Titan may be as salty as the Dead Sea.[92][93] 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.[94]

In 2016, Cassini found the first evidence of fluid-filled channels on Titan, in a series of deep, steep-sided canyons flowing into Ligeia Mare. This network of canyons, dubbed Vid Flumina, range in depth from 240 to 570 m and have sides as steep as 40°. They are believed to have formed either by crustal uplifting, like Earth's Grand Canyon, or a lowering of sea level, or perhaps a combination of the two. The depth of erosion suggests that liquid flows in this part of Titan are long-term features that persist for thousands of years.[95]

Impact craters[edit]

Radar, SAR and imaging data from Cassini have revealed few impact craters on Titan's surface.[62] These impacts appear to be relatively young, compared to Titan's age.[62] The few impact craters discovered include a 440-kilometer-wide (270 mi) two-ring impact basin named Menrva seen by Cassini's ISS as a bright-dark concentric pattern.[97] A smaller, 60-kilometer-wide (37 mi), flat-floored crater named Sinlap[98] and a 30 km (19 mi) crater with a central peak and dark floor named Ksa have also been observed.[99] Radar and Cassini imaging have also revealed "crateriforms", circular features on the surface of Titan that may be impact related, but lack certain features that would make identification certain. For example, a 90-kilometer-wide (56 mi) ring of bright, rough material known as Guabonito has been observed by Cassini.[100] This feature is thought to be an impact crater filled in by dark, windblown sediment. Several other similar features have been observed in the dark Shangri-la and Aaru regions. Radar observed several circular features that may be craters in the bright region Xanadu during Cassini's April 30, 2006 flyby of Titan.[101]

Many of Titan's craters or probable craters display evidence of extensive erosion, and all show some indication of modification.[96] Most large craters have breached or incomplete rims, despite the fact that some craters on Titan have relatively more massive rims than those anywhere else in the Solar System. There is little evidence of formation of palimpsests through viscoelastic crustal relaxation, unlike on other large icy moons.[96] Most craters lack central peaks and have smooth floors, possibly due to impact-generation or later eruption of cryovolcanic lava. Infill from various geological processes is one reason for Titan's relative deficiency of craters; atmospheric shielding also plays a role. It is estimated that Titan's atmosphere reduces the number of craters on its surface by a factor of two.[103]

The limited high-resolution radar coverage of Titan obtained through 2007 (22%) suggested the existence of nonuniformities in its crater distribution. Xanadu has 2–9 times more craters than elsewhere. The leading hemisphere has a 30% higher density than the trailing hemisphere. There are lower crater densities in areas of equatorial dunes and in the north polar region (where hydrocarbon lakes and seas are most common).[96]

Pre-Cassini models of impact trajectories and angles suggest that where the impactor strikes the water ice crust, a small amount of ejecta remains as liquid water within the crater. It may persist as liquid for centuries or longer, sufficient for "the synthesis of simple precursor molecules to the origin of life".[104]

Titan's orbit (highlighted in red) among the other large inner moons of Saturn. The moons outside its orbit are (from the outside to the inside) Iapetus and Hyperion; those inside are Rhea, Dione, Tethys, Enceladus, and Mimas.

Size comparison: Titan (lower left) with the Moon and Earth (top and right)

A model of Titan's internal structure

True-color image of layers of haze in Titan's atmosphere
Titan's South Pole Vortex—a swirling HCN gas cloud (November 29, 2012).
Polar clouds, made of methane, on Titan (left) compared with polar clouds on Earth (right), which are made of water or water ice.
Methane clouds (animated; July 2014).[56]
Global map of Titan – with IAU labels (August 2016).

North pole

South pole

Titan (2014)

False-color Cassini radar mosaic of Titan's north polar region. Blue coloring indicates low radar reflectivity, caused by hydrocarbon seas, lakes and tributary networks filled with liquid ethane, methane and dissolved N
2. About half of the large body at lower left, Kraken Mare, is shown. Ligeia Mare is at lower right.
Mosaic of three Huygens images of channel system on Titan
Near-infrared radiation from the Sun reflecting off Titan's hydrocarbon seas
Radar image of a 139 km-diameter[96] impact crater on Titan's surface, showing a smooth floor, rugged rim, and possibly a central peak.

A researcher from MIPT, Prof. Vladimir Krasnopolsky, who heads the Laboratory of High Resolution Infrared Spectroscopy of Planetary Atmospheres, has published the results of the comparison of his model of Titan's atmosphere with the latest data.

The article in the journal Icarus compares the chemical composition of Titan's atmosphere with parameters predicted by a mathematical model. The atmosphere of Saturn's largest moon was described by a model that took into account the presence of 83 neutral molecules and 33 ions and 420 different chemical reactions between them. Despite the fact that Titan is located much further from the Sun than Earth and that radiation flux coming from the Sun to the moon is 100 times less, the intensity of UV rays is enough to spur photochemical reactions in the upper layers of Titan's atmosphere.

The data regarding the composition of Titan's atmosphere, which is 1.6 times denser near the surface than Earth's air, was obtained from several sources, but mainly the Cassini orbiter. It was equipped with a number of gauges, including ultraviolet and infrared spectrometers and equipment for studying the ions that were drawn into space. Within ten years in Saturn's orbit, a plasma complex and a mass spectrometer designed specifically for this research project gathered enough data to compare it with mathematical models.

In addition to Cassini, part of the data was obtained using the IRAM ground submillimeter telescope and the Hershel infrared space observatory. Data on the distribution of aerosol particles in Titan's atmosphere was received from a unique space capsule, Huygens, which landed on Titan for the first time in the history of humankind and sent the first photos of its surface.

Comparing this data with the previously developed model, Krasnopolsky showed that the theoretical description of Titan's atmosphere matches the reality quite accurately. There are discrepancies, however, but they are caused by inevitable measurement errors -- so far the concentrations of many substances are approximate. The most important thing is not the absolute matching of specific parameters but the correctness of the general model of chemical processes.

"The coherence of the model with reality means that we can correctly tell where different substances go from Titan's ionosphere and where they come from," Krasnopolsky said.

Story Source:

Materials provided by Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Vladimir A. Krasnopolsky. Chemical composition of Titan’s atmosphere and ionosphere: Observations and the photochemical model. Icarus, 2014; 236: 83 DOI: 10.1016/j.icarus.2014.03.041

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