Titan (moon)

Article

January 20, 2022

Titan (or Saturn VI) is the largest moon on the planet Saturn. It is the only known natural satellite in our solar system that has atmosphere, and the only known object outside the earth with stable bodies of liquids on the surface. Titan is the sixth ellipsoidal (true moon) from Saturn. It is planet-like, has a diameter that is about 50% larger than the Earth's moon and has about 80% more mass. By diameter, it is the second largest in the solar system, after Jupiter's moon Ganymede. In volume, it is larger than the smallest planet, Mercury, even though it is only half as massive. Titan became the first known moon of Saturn at the discovery made by the Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens in 1655, and the fifth moon discovered around a planet other than Earth (the first four were the Galilean moons around Jupiter discovered in 1610). Titan consists primarily of ice and rocks. As with Venus, the dense, opaque atmosphere made it difficult to understand the surface of Titan before the space age. In 2004, the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft arrived, collected new data and discovered floating lakes of hydrocarbons at the polar regions. The landing craft Huygens landed on solid ground 14 January 2005. The surface is geologically young; although rocks and several possible cryovolcanoes have been discovered, the surface is slippery and few impact craters have been found. Titan's atmosphere consists largely of nitrogen - smaller components lead to the formation of methane and ethane clouds and nitrogen-rich organic smog. The climate - including wind and rain - forms surface formations, including dunes, rivers, lakes and oceans (probably of liquid methane and ethane) and deltas. They are governed by the weather patterns of the seasons, as it were on earth. The liquids (both on and below the surface) and the robust nitrogen atmosphere mean that Titan's methane cycle is considered an analogue to the Earth's water cycle, but with a much lower temperature. The satellite is believed to contain microbial life or, at the very least, a prebiotic environment rich in complex organic chemistry with a possible subterranean ocean acting as a biotic environment.

Discovery and name

Titan was discovered on March 25, 1655 by the Dutch astronomer and physicist Christiaan Huygens. Huygens was inspired by Galileo's discovery of Jupiter's four largest moons in 1610 and his improvements in telescopic technology. With the help of his brother Constantijn, Christiaan Huygens began building telescopes around 1650. The first moon he discovered in orbit around Saturn was with the first telescope he built. He called the moon Saturni Luna (or Luna Saturni, Latin for "Saturn's moon") and published the discovery in De Saturni Luna Observatio Nova in 1656. After Giovanni Cassini published the discovery of four more Saturn moons between 1673 and 1686, astronomers began referring to these and Titan as Saturn I to V (with Titan as number four). Other early nicknames for Titan were "Saturn's ordinary satellite". Titan has the official number Saturn VI since the numbers were frozen after the discoveries in 1789 to avoid more confusion - Titan has previously had the numbers II, IV and VI. A number of smaller moons have been discovered closer to Saturn since then. The name Titan, and the names of the then known seven satellites of Saturn, came from John Herschel (son of William Herschel), the discoverer of Mimas and Enceladus, in his publication Results of Astronomical Observations Made at the Cape of Good Hope in 1847. He proposed the names of the mythological Titans (Ancient Greek: Τῑτάν), sisters and brothers of Kronos, the Greek Saturn. In Greek mythology, the Titans were a race of powerful deities, descendants of Gaia and Uranus, who ruled in the Golden Age.

Orbit and rotation

Titan orbits Saturn in 15 days and 22 hours. Like many other satellites of the gas giants and the Earth's moon, the period of rotation is identical with the period of orbit; Titan is tidal locked in a bounded rotation with Saturn, and the same side

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