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This image of Titan's atmosphere was captured by NASA's Cassini spacecraft on July 3, 2004. The orange color of Titan is shown roughly as our eyes would see it. A layer of haze, composed of complex organic molecules, is shown in purple in this image. The false-color representation of the haze layer, which hovers a few hundred km above the moon's surface, indicates that it was imaged in ultraviolet "light".
Click on image for full size
Image courtesy NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute.

The Atmosphere of Titan

Titan is the only moon in our Solar System with a significant atmosphere. Titan's atmosphere consists mostly of nitrogen, and is so thick that the atmospheric pressure at the moon's surface is about 60% greater than Earth's atmospheric pressure.

Titan's atmosphere also has a significant amount of methane. Bombardment of the methane by solar ultraviolet radiation has produced trace amounts of numerous other hydrocarbons. These organic molecules create several layers of smog-like haze in the moon's atmosphere, obscuring views of Titan's surface.

The Cassini spacecraft has observed clouds in Titan's atmosphere near the moon's poles. Temperatures are so cold (-178 C, -288 F) on Titan that methane is a liquid at the surface. Scientists believe that methane and ethane may fall as rain and snow from the clouds in Titan's atmosphere onto its frigid surface. This image shows the predicted structure of Titan's atmosphere. New results from the Huygens probe will likely revise our knowledge of the structure and composition of Titan's atmosphere.


Last modified January 22, 2009 by Randy Russell.

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA