In focus: Titan

In focus: Titan

Introduction

  • Titan is the only moon of Saturn that has a size comparable to that of our own moon.
  • It is the second largest moon in our solar system after Ganymede of Jupiter.

 

Features

  • Thick atmosphere
    • Titan is the only moon that has a thick atmosphere. (about 200 km)
    • The atmosphere is composed of 95% nitrogen, traces of methane, ethane, acetylene, ethylene and propane.
  • Composition
    • As a result of high atmospheric pressure and low temperature (-178 degree Celsius), hydrocarbons such as methane, ethane exist as liquid on Titan.
    • As a result it is the only place other than earth that has standing liquid on its surface.

 

Cassini Mission and its findings

  • Launched in 1997, reached Saturn in 2004
  • Joint effort of NASA, European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency.
  • Final flyby in 2017.

Objectives

  • Study of composition, structure, weather, origin and evolution of Saturn
  • Structure and composition of Saturn’s rings
  • Study of Titan and other small icy satellites of Saturn

Key discoveries

  • Cassini spacecraft was the first to observe Titan to have rain, rivers, lakes and seas made of hydrocarbons.
  • First to observe nitrogen-rich atmosphere.
  • Current discovery
    • Titan’s northern hemisphere has lakes 300 ft deep made of methane.
    • The lakes are on top of landforms similar to mesas or butte on earth (flatlands) in Karst topography.
    • Further there are small shallow lakes (called phantom lakes) seasonal in nature that appear in winter and evaporate in summer.
Section : Science & Tech

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