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Last updated on April 18, 2014 at 1:21 EDT

What is Titan?

December 13, 2012

Hi, I’m Emerald Robinson, and in this “What Is” video, we’re exploring Saturn’s largest moon: Titan.

Named for a race of giants who were Saturn’s brothers and sisters in Greek myth, Titan was discovered on March twenty fifth, 1655, by the Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens.

Titan is roughly 3200 miles in diameter, making it one of the largest moons in our solar system, smaller only than Jupiter’s Ganymede. Titan is indeed a giant – it’s about fifty percent larger than the Earth’s moon, and it’s even bigger than the planet Mercury.

Like our moon, Titan has what’s called “synchronous rotation,” meaning that its rotation and revolution times are almost identical, and the same side always faces Saturn. Unlike our moon, however, this takes just under sixteen days, instead of about thirty days.

Of Saturn’s fifty three known moons, Titan is sixth away from the planet, orbiting approximately 759,000 miles away from Saturn’s center.

Although Titan is large, it’s not very massive, so its gravity is very weak. Objects weighing one hundred pounds on earth would only weigh about twelve pounds on Titan. It’s also very cold, with an average temperature of about minus two hundred eighty nine degrees Fahrenheit. Titan has a very thick, cloudy atmosphere made mostly of nitrogen.

Because of this dense atmosphere, Titan is the only known moon in the solar system to exhibit weather, complete with wind and precipitation. This weather causes Titan’s surface to have some very earth-like features such as lakes and rivers.  In fact, Titan is the only object in the solar system besides earth that has permanent bodies of liquid on its surface – although the liquid is probably either methane or ethane, substances related to gasoline, instead of water. Still, scientists continue to think there could be microscopic life in Titan’s lakes.