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Mar 25

Titan Discovery Day

Exploration of Titan
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Titan's phases
2018 images of Titan's surface detail, with former image in center - Photo: NASA/JPL
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"Deep in the shady sadness of a vale, Far sunken from the healthy breath of morn, Far from the fiery noon, and eve's one star, Sat gray-hair'd Saturn, quiet as a stone, Still as the silence round about his lair." ~Hyperion, John Keats, 1818

Titan was discovered on March 25, 1655, by the Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens. Huygens was inspired by Galileo's discovery of Jupiter's four largest moons in 1610 and his improvements in telescope technology. The planet Saturn has 62 moons, of which nine are still to be named. Many of Saturn's moons are very small: 33 are less than 10 km (6 mi), but Titan is bigger than both Mercury and Pluto! Many of Saturn's moons are named after the individual Titans, powerful deities, descendants of Gaia and Uranus, that ruled during the legendary Golden Age prior to the Olympians.

Saturn's largest moon, Titan, was discovered in 1665 by the Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens.  Huygens was inspired by Galileo's discovery of Jupiter's four largest moons in 1610 and his improvements in telescope technology.  Originally named Saturni Luna, the name Titan, and the names of all seven satellites of Saturn then known, came from John Herschel (son of William Herschel, discoverer of two other Saturnian moons, Mimas and Enceladus).  He suggested the names of the mythological Titans, brothers and sisters of Cronus, the Greek Saturn. In Greek mythology, the Titans were a race of powerful deities, descendants of Gaia and Uranus, that ruled during the legendary Golden Age.

Titan in particular is of interest to researchers because of its potential for life unlike anything we see elsewhere but on Earth. It is the only other place in the solar system with liquid on its surface, and it has an abundance of the types of complex chemicals necessary for living organisms.

 

This tartan was designed on behalf of Charles Cockell, Professor of Astrobiology, Edinburgh University to celebrate science, exploration and outreach activities associated with Saturn's moon Titan. Colours: The brown background represents the brown haze that enshrouds the moon and is a product of its methane and hydrocarbon cycle. The dark brown bands represent the formation of complex hydrocarbons on the moon and their presence on the surface. They may also represent the dark methane lakes of the moon. The white line represents water ice and its role in geological cycles on the moon. The blue line represents the subsurface ocean or the formation of transient liquid water in impact events on the moon and the astrobiological significance of chemical reactions in such environments. The green line threaded through the dark hydrocarbon band reflects the interest in Titan as a place where prebiotic compounds may have formed, the precursors to life and the use of Titan to understand organic chemistry relevant to early life on Earth. It may also represent the interaction of life with Titan in the form of robotic and human exploration. 

For more spectacular images from the Cassini spacecraft, collected over 13 years, click the 2018 released photographs showing the detail of the satellite's surface as it would look without its thick atmosphere.