Pale Yellow Dot, Saturn’s Biggest Moon

Hey there folks, a couple of weeks ago I discussed the Jovian moons. I want to continue on that trend of interesting moons today. So, where do we go from Jupiter? Why, to Saturn, of course! Saturn has some crazy moons–62 currently. Many of these are just tiny little fellas, and some have complex interactions with the rings around the planet. Only two of them are big enough for hydrostatic equilibrium (massive enough to be round). These are Titan and Rhea. Today, its gonna be a short article (I’m running on a crazy schedule!), so I will discuss Titan today!

So what is so fancy about Titan? Let’s get size out of the way first. It is the largest moon of Saturn and is the second largest moon in the solar system, right behind Ganymede. It’s also bigger than Mercury. It’s big, get it?

Titan (lower left, infrared image) compared to Earth and the Moon

That is not the only thing it has going for it. This is the only moon known to have a dense atmosphere, thicker than Earth’s actually. On top of that, it is the only object other than our planet that has stable bodies of surface liquid. These liquids are methane and ethane seas, but still, pretty cool!

The atmosphere is very thick and hard to see through, like Venus. It gives it a solid appearance with visible wavelength images. It is a nitrogen rich atmosphere like ours, but the other dominant gases are methane and hydrogen.

converted PNM file
A natural color image of Titan from Cassini Spacecraft

This moon has atmospheric activity as well, including wind and rain. These create surface features that are similar to Earth like dunes, rivers, lakes, and seas. There is a seasonal weather pattern as well.

There have been two probes that have flown by this planet and imaged it in different wavelengths. One probe carried a lander that actually landed safely. It didn’t last long, but sent back some images and data.

Image on surface of Titan

The surface seems to be composed of water ice, liquid methane rain and rivers run. The rocks in the image are water ice and have evidence of erosion, meaning it landed in an area where liquid runs. They estimate that the soil is composed of hydrocarbon particles.

There have been some proposed return missions for Titan in recent years. No proposed missions have become funded yet. The proposed concepts range from balloon like probes that stay in the atmosphere to floating devices to touch down and remain on one of the lakes or seas.

There you have it: an interesting thing to note. This moon is believed to have formed from the debris of an early Saturn system. The early system was believed to resemble Jupiter’s. This makes the moons orbit elliptical, unlike the stable circular orbits of Ganymede, Europa, and Io. The atmosphere is also believed to be getting its methane replenished through volcanic activity on the surface, and is the reason why the atmosphere has remained so thick.

Learn anything? Like anything? Hate anything? Let us know!

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