The search for evidence of life on distant exoplanets has led us to look beyond our solar system into the vastness of space. A few hundred years ago, however, a distinctive planet was discovered that is relatively close to us. This intriguing world has clouds in its atmosphere, experiences rainfall, and has flowing rivers that lead to lakes and seas on its surface
What did NASA find on Titan?
Despite these fascinating features, the extreme cold makes the planet’s surface uninhabitable. This planet is Titan, and we are left to wonder about the mysteries that lie within its deadly environment.
In our quest to find signs of life on distant exoplanets, we have looked beyond our solar system and into the vastness of space. Just a few hundred years ago, however, we discovered a unique world relatively close to home. This fascinating body is none other than Titan, the largest of Saturn’s moons.
Despite its relative proximity, Titan is outside the habitable zone of our star, and it takes 16 Earth days for Titan to complete a full orbit around Saturn.
Titan has a diameter of 5152 kilometers, and its mass is 1.35 times 10 to the power of 23 kilograms, giving it a completely different chemical composition than Earth.
Titan has a massive core at its center, surrounded by a thick layer of densely packed ice. In addition, there is a subsurface ocean that is hundreds of kilometers deep. What is unique about this ocean is that it remains in a liquid state even at sub-zero temperatures, due to a thick crust that is about 100 kilometers thick.
Titan’s atmosphere is primarily composed of hydrogen, which makes up about 98.4% of its volume. The remaining 1.6% is mostly methane (Source).
The presence of multi-layered clouds and a thick, orange-yellow haze on its surface obscure its features and give it a unique hue. This haze creates an atypical anti-greenhouse effect that cools Titan’s surface by about 10 degrees Celsius.
Layers of Titan’s atmosphere
At an altitude of about 80 kilometers, Titan’s atmosphere is very stable, with almost no wind or air currents. Titan’s two ionospheres, at 1200 kilometers and 60 kilometers, are formed by streams of charged particles from the Sun and cosmic rays interacting with the moon’s atmosphere. These ionospheres play an important role in shaping Titan’s upper atmosphere and contribute to its complex chemistry.
The Huygens probe’s landing site
The exact landing site for the Huygens probe, which landed on January 14, 2005, was at 10.3° south latitude and 192.32° west longitude (or 167.7° east). This spot is marked with a yellow X and is located between the bright Adiri region and the dark Shangri-la region.
The Huygens probe, part of the Cassini-Huygens science program, was launched from Earth in 1997 and arrived at Titan in 2005 to begin a journey of discovery. Huygens spent two and a half hours in Titan’s atmosphere, gradually slowing down until it landed on the surface.
Its mission was to study Titan’s atmosphere and determine the composition and properties of the surface after landing. The probe found that the ground was covered by a thin layer of small, rounded pebbles on a relatively soft but dense substrate.
First and only images of Titan, Saturn’s largest moon
The European Space Agency’s Huygens probe achieved the remarkable feat of landing on Titan and capturing these awe-inspiring images. Below are the exclusive photos of Titan’s surface that we have in our possession.
Titan, Saturn’s enigmatic, gassy moon, has only been photographed from its surface by a single spacecraft. But capturing those images was no easy task.
Beneath its hazy atmosphere lies a frozen terrain of water ice that is harder than granite. In addition, Titan is the only body in our solar system where liquid has been observed to flow across its topography. However, this is not in the form of typical water. Rather, vast expanses of seas, lakes, and rivers are formed by liquid methane.
In 2005, the European Space Agency’s Huygens probe landed on Saturn’s largest moon, Titan
Huygens took hundreds of images of its surface. Titan is the only moon in our solar system known to have liquid on its surface, but it is mostly methane.
The images showed that Titan’s surface is made of water ice that has frozen harder than granite, and the landing site looked like a dried-up lake or riverbed with no sign of water.
The Huygens mission was designed to study Titan’s atmosphere, including its chemical properties, wind, temperature and pressure.
The spacecraft was designed to be light enough to float and operate on the surface for a short time, assuming it survived the impact. After 72 minutes of communication from the surface, Cassini and its link to Earth disappeared over the horizon. Huygens was shut down shortly after its batteries ran out.
Huygens’ images remain the best we have of Titan’s surface, providing unprecedented detail of its surface.