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This picture shows the surface of Titan. Dark areas are covered with dunes. Lighter areas seem to be highlands. It is hard to see the surface of Titan because the moon has a thick atmosphere.
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Image courtesy of NASA/JPL/University of Arizona.

The Surface of Titan

Saturn's moon Titan has a thick atmosphere. That makes it hard to study the surface of Titan. However, starting in 2004, the Cassini spacecraft and Huygens lander gathered lots of new data about Titan's surface. We are still learning about Titan, but we now know a lot more than we used to.

The surface of Titan is very, very cold: around -180 C (-355 F). At those temperatures methane (also called "natural gas" - like the stuff that your home's furnace or oven might burn) turns into a liquid. Scientists have found lakes of methane and other similar chemicals (called hydrocarbons) on Titan. Those lakes are the first stable bodies of surface liquid found off Earth! The lakes are mostly near Titan's poles. Scientists have also seen patterns that might be made by rivers and streams of methane. There might also be geysers or "volcanoes" on Titan that shoot a mixture of ammonia and water into the air.

A lot of Titan is covered by dunes. Those areas look dark when seen from space. Some dunes are 330 meters (over 1,000 feet) high! The dunes are mostly near Titan's equator. There are also hilly areas and even some mountains on Titan. The tallest peaks are about 1 km (3,281 feet) tall. There are also a few impact craters on Titan, but not very many. Most meteors burn up in Titan's thick atmosphere before they hit the ground.

The Huygens probe landed on Titan in January 2005. It sent back the first close-up pictures of Titan's surface. It took pictures from the air while it floated down on a parachute. It also took pictures on the ground.

Last modified January 30, 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 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