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With Explore the Planets, investigate the planets, their moons, and understand the processes that shape them. By G. Jeffrey Taylor, Ph.D. See our DVD collection.
This is a drawing of the history of the inside of an icy moon.
Image from: The New Solar System

Where did the atmosphere come from?

Titan is like other icy moons. Scientists want to know "how come Titan is the only one that has a big atmosphere?"

Titan formed the same way other planets did, as shown in this picture. Where Titan formed, the nebula was colder than it was near Jupiter. The nebula near Titan was so cold that even the molecule Nitrogen could become solid.

This means Titan is probably made of Nitrogen ice! Saturn is giving off heat, so it is warm enough for Nitrogen to evaporate and form the air of Titan.

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation and NASA, our Founding Partners (the American Geophysical Union and American Geosciences Institute) as well as through Institutional, Contributing, and Affiliate Partners, individual memberships and generous donors. Thank you for your support! NASA AGU AGI NSF