Our universe is home to countless mysteries, but we really don’t need to step outside our very own solar system to encounter some of them.
Right inside our solar system there are so many mysteries hidden that it will possibly take several decades more to unravel all of them.
Titan holds many such mysteries, and today we are going to learn a few interesting Titan facts. Honestly, there is quite more to learn about this incredible celestial body. Till now, we have managed to find only a few things about it.
So, let us learn what we have discovered so far.
Titan Facts: 1-5
1. Titan is a moon and it belongs to Saturn. There are actually 150 satellites of Saturn, which are either moons or moonlets. Of these, only 62 have been confirmed to have proper orbits and Titan is one of those 62 moons.
2. Of the 150 satellites of Saturn, 53 have been named by scientists. Titan is one of those satellites that have been named.
3. Titan is Saturn’s largest moon. It is also the second largest moon in our entire solar system. The first spot is taken by Jupiter’s satellite Ganymede.
4. In terms of size, Ganymede beats Titan by only 2%. So, there isn’t much difference between the two when it comes to size.
Titan Facts: 6-10
6. Titan is so big that it actually dwarfs the smallest planet in this solar system – the Mercury. Titan is way larger than Mercury but when it comes to mass, Titan is only 40% more massive compared to the innermost planet.
7. Titan is our solar system’s only moon which has a dense atmosphere and clouds too. The atmosphere is mostly made of methane and nitrogen.
8. Also, it turns out that apart from Earth, Titan is only other celestial body in our solar system where liquid cycles – similar to that found on Earth – are found flowing across the body’s surface.
9. Now you might be thinking that the liquid in question is water or is it something else? No! It is not water. The liquid in question is made of liquid ethane and liquid methane. On Earth, ethane and methane are known to be primary components of precious natural gas.
10. NASA’s Cassini spacecraft found the surface of Titan has rivers and lakes that have liquid ethane and liquid methane flowing through them.
Titan Facts: 11-15
11. These liquid ethane and methane also evaporate and rise up to form clouds and then they rain down as liquid gas just as water rains down on Earth!
12. Okay, when we talk of clouds, it becomes necessary to talk about the atmosphere. Titan is the only moon (satellite) in this solar system to have an atmosphere. The moon remains surrounded by a haze of orange color.
13. It is this haze and the thick atmosphere of Titan that made the early scientists believe that Titan was the largest satellite – even bigger than Ganymede. However, when Voyager spacecraft reached close to Titan back in 1980, scientists understood that Ganymede was actually bigger than Titan.
14. Titan’s atmosphere stretches 600 kilometers above its surface. This means that the atmosphere of Titan reaches even higher that our Earth’s atmosphere.
15. The atmosphere of Titan is very complex and very active. The atmosphere has methane and nitrogen as the primary components. 5% of the entire atmosphere is made of methane while the remaining 95% is made of nitrogen.
Titan Facts: 16-20
16. Apart from methane and nitrogen, the atmosphere is also known to have organic molecules that are composed of hydrogen and carbon. Some of these molecules are known to have even oxygen and a few other elements – just as in case of Earth.
17. Now, Titan’s atmosphere is shrouded by a mystery that scientists have not been able to solve till now. The atmosphere of this satellite has methane in it.
Sunlight reaches the atmosphere of Titan, and it is known that sunlight breaks down methane. So, logically methane should not exist for long or in fact, should have already vanished from the atmosphere of Titan.
But that’s not the case. This means that methane is getting replenished. But from where?
Scientists don’t know that yet and they hold the belief that volcanic activities might be responsible for methane replenishment.
18. There is another interesting thing about the atmosphere of Titan. Cassini spacecraft managed to find polar winds on Titan and studied that these polar winds draw out nitrogen and methane (in a charged state because they interact with sunlight) along the magnetic field of Saturn. These atmospheric gases are being drawn out of the atmosphere in a way similar to what happens on Earth.
19. The orange colored smog that is seen around Titan is the result of nitrogen and methane splitting and recycling in the satellite’s upper atmosphere.
20. According to NASA, when nitrogen and methane split and recombine in the upper atmosphere because of interaction with sunlight, they form a wide range of organic molecules.
Some of these molecules are pretty heavy and instead of becoming a part of the haze around the moon, they fall on its surface. These hydrocarbons that fall on the surface are the grains of the ‘Sand’ that is found on Titan.
Titan Facts: 21-25
21. Titan has a rich collection of lakes, most of which are concentrated towards the south pole of the celestial body. These lakes are all filled with liquid ethane and methane and also molecules of hydrogen and carbon.
22. The largest lake that Titan has, has been named as Kraken Mare by astronomers on Earth. The Kraken Mare was located by Cassini spacecraft, which flew close to Titan on June 5, 2010.
23. This largest lake of Titan is really massive. The total area covered by this lake is 400,000 square kilometers or 150,000 square miles. So, this makes the lake bigger than Caspian Sea that is present on our Earth.
24. 4 years later after Cassini’s flyby, scientists on Earth identified a very interesting feature. They saw a short-living feature and gave it the name “Magic Island”. Though the actual name is Transient Feature, Magic Island is just a playful name given.
25. So, what really is Magic Island? According to experts, these are large bubbles of nitrogen that are formed on these lakes and seas on Titan. They sit on the surface for some time and then they just vanish. These bubbles are large enough to look like islands and hence the playful name.
Titan Facts: 26-30
26. How are these nitrogen bubbles formed? There’s a mystery to this. On Titan, the liquid ethane and liquid methane in lakes and seas and rivers do not mix with each other. In fact, they sit in layers. However, the moon is also known to have methane rains.
27. When the methane rains down they flow to form channels that are temporary. These channels often drain into the larger liquid bodies and in the process, churn the layered liquids. Because of this churning, the nitrogen present in both ethane and methane lakes is released, forming the Magic Islands or Transient Features.
28. The other alternative is that when the rainfall occurs, the raining methane mixes with liquid ethane in these liquid bodies and the resulting mix leads to creation of bubbles and hence, the Transient Features.
29. There is yet another possibility. Despite the fact that Titan is very very cold, there are seasons. During the warmer seasons, according to scientists, the temperature is high enough to heat up the lakes, rivers and seas on Titan. This heating breaks apart the nitrogen in the molecules of liquid ethane and liquid methane.
30. The problem is that the nitrogen release process is way too slow, and hence, instead of having a bubble eruption, the nitrogen simply fizzes up on the surface and stays provided that the lakes and rivers or seas are not composed of methane only. Had they been only methane, the bubbles would simply pop on the surface instead of sitting around for a while.
Titan Facts: 31-35
31. Here is something really interesting. Scientists THINK that there MIGHT be a huge underground ocean lurking right underneath the icy shell of Titan. Just how did the scientists come to this weird conclusion? Thanks to the data sent over by Cassini spacecraft.
32. The spacecraft, during its flyby, found that this moon of Saturn has a tilt of 0.3 degrees on its rotation axis as against Earth’s 23 degrees. This data along with the moment of inertia, calculated using the data from Cassini, tells that such numbers are possible only and only if there is a subterranean ocean made of liquid water.
33. Even more interesting, the icy shell of the Titan is actually sliding around. This can happen only if there is a liquid body underneath the shell. In addition to this, the idea of a subterranean ocean is also supported by internal heat flow of Titan, which has also been studied by scientists using data from Cassini.
34. So, it is assumed that Titan’s core is solid, which is covered by an ocean of water. This ocean in turn is covered by a sliding icy shell.
The icy shell is assumed to be 93 miles (150 kilometers) to 124 miles (200 kilometers) thick whereas the water ocean has a depth of 3 miles or 5 kilometers to 264 miles or 425 kilometers.
The remaining 3,200 miles or 5,150 kilometers (which is the diameter of Titan) is taken by the solid core.
35. Scientists assume that the proposed subterranean ocean of Titan has possibly ammonia mixed in it rather than hydrocarbons any other substance.
Titan Facts: 36-40
36. Coming to the surface of Titan, according to NASA, the moon’s surface is frosty and the usual temperature is -179°C or -290°C. This is why the natural gas (ethane and methane) stays in liquid format on the surface.
37. NASA says that there are volcanic activities on the moon. But the question is, what comes out of those volcanic eruptions? Remember the subterranean ocean theory? NASA says that the water plays the role of lava and rock. So, it is water that flows out in the form of lava. This is what is called cryovolcanism.
38. Have you been to a desert on Earth and looked at sand dunes? Well, you get to see such sand dunes on the surface of Titan as well. The only problem is that this ‘sand’ is not really sand. The ‘sand’ in question is made of dark grains on hydrocarbon and the dunes are pretty tall and stretch across Titan’s vast landscape.
39. Did you know that Titan is very similar to Earth at least in terms of forced wind and flowing liquid? Yes, you find these on Titan and these are the reasons why you won’t see much evidence of impact craters as they are gradually erased by these forces. Also, a very few impact craters have been spotted, which suggests that Titan’s surface is relatively young.
40. There is yet another force present on Titan. It is none other than the tectonic forces. Tectonic force refers to ground movements caused by pressure emanating outwards from beneath the surface.
Titan Facts: 41-45
41. The diameter of Titan is 5,150 kilometers. To be precise, it is 5,149.4 kilometers.
42. As far as the mass of Titan is concerned, it has 1.8 times the mass of our Moon. The exact mass is 1.35 x 1023 kilograms.
43. The satellite is tidally locked to Saturn. This means that Titan shows only one face to Saturn always. The other face of Titan cannot see Saturn – ever!
44. The time taken by Titan to orbit around the host planet (in this case, Saturn) is 15 days (Earth days) and 22 hours. Interestingly, that is the exact amount of time Titan takes to complete one rotation around its rotational axis.
45. Put points 43 and 44 together and what we get is that one day on Titan actually lasts for 15 days and 22 hours.
Titan Facts: 46-50
46. Titan was the sixth moon to be discovered in our Solar System.
47. Titan was discovered by Christiaan Huygens – a Dutch astronomer. He came up with this discovery in 1655. The exact date was March 25.
48. Because a day on Titan lasts as long as its orbital period, there is a point on Titan which is known as the sub-Saturnian point. Standing at this point, it will appear that Saturn is hanging directly overhead.
49. The discoverer of this satellite named the moon as Saturni Luna. However, between 1673 and 1686, four more moons were discovered. The result was that those moons were named as Saturn I, Saturn II, Saturn III, Saturn IV and Saturn V. By this time Titan was already in the fourth position, and hence, was named as Saturn IV.
50. The problem is that Titan had to bear all these names – Saturn II, Saturn IV and Saturn VI. So, as more and more satellites kept coming in, the numbering system was given up. Finally, the name Titan was given by John Herschel, who was the son of William Herschel. It was William Herschel who discovered Enceladus and Miams – both of which are moons of Saturn.
Titan Facts: 51-55
51. Did you know that Titan doesn’t have a magnetic field of its own? That’s pretty weird.
52. Titan’s atmosphere is very dense, but the problem is with its gravity. The gravity is very low. This means that we can actually attach home-made wings to our arms and flap our way up into the skies of Saturn. Yes, you can literally fly in Saturn’s atmosphere.
53. The reason why natural gases (methane and ethane) are found in liquid state on Titan is that its atmospheric pressure is too high and the surface temperature is too cold. -290°F or -179°C along with a substantial amount of atmospheric pressure allows ethane and methane to be in liquid state.
54. The most distant landing ever made in the outer solar system is on Titan. A probe called Huygens managed to land on the moon and transmit data for 1.5 hours. Huygens was carried by Cassini spacecraft.
55. Actually, Titan was supposed to be far colder than what it is. Methane that is present in the atmosphere of Titan is responsible for keeping the moon warm enough by creating a greenhouse effect.
Titan Facts: 56-60
56. The greenhouse effect would have been more profound had there been no haze around the celestial body.
The sunlight that comes to Titan, a majority of it is bounced back into space by the haze, and thus, canceling out the greenhouse effect produced by Methane to a great extent.
This means that the upper atmosphere of the moon is pretty much warmer than the celestial body itself.
57. Titan’s surface is geologically young. Interestingly, Titan has been around since our entire solar system was formed, but over time, the surface of Titan was reshaped by geological processes.
Currently, it is estimated that the surface of Titan is anywhere between 100 million years and 1 billion years old.
58. There are three major seas on Titan (filled with liquid hydrocarbons). These are Kraken Mare, Ligeia Mare and Punga Mare. However, when it comes to the number of lakes, there are actually many of them. There are 36 lakes in total.
59. In addition to lakes and seas, the moon also has bays and islands. There are 10 islands and 15 bays in total.
60. In 2014 July 2, NASA said that the global ocean that is lurking beneath the icy surface of Titan is perhaps extremely salty. Just how salty? According to NASA, it is as salty as the Dead Sea on Earth!
Well, we will conclude our list of facts about Titan here. Actually, we could have written more, but we think these facts will suffice for now and moreover, we don’t want to torture you any further. So, we will end right here!