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.
Click on image for full size
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.
Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!
Our online store
includes issues of NESTA's quarterly journal, The Earth Scientist
, full of classroom activities on different topics in Earth and space science, ranging from seismology
, rocks and minerals
, and Earth system science
You might also be interested in:
A spacecraft named Cassini will study the planet Saturn for several years. Cassini blasted off from Earth in October 1997. After flying past Venus, Earth, and Jupiter, Cassini finally arrived at Saturn...more
Methane is a kind of gas. There is a small amount of methane in the air you breathe. A methane molecule has carbon and hydrogen atoms in it. Methane is a greenhouse gas. That means it helps make Earth...more
There is a group of chemicals called hydrocarbons. The molecules of hydrocarbons are made of hydrogen and carbon atoms. Most kinds of fuel have hydrocarbons in them. Hydrocarbons store energy. Coal, oil,...more
Titan is the largest moon of Saturn. It is the second largest moon in the whole Solar System. Titan is the only moon with a thick atmosphere. Titan's poles are interesting places. Scientists have discovered...more
Ammonia is a kind of gas. Ammonia molecules (NH3) have hydrogen and nitrogen atoms in them. The air you breathe has a tiny bit of ammonia in it. When plants and animals die and decay, they give off ammonia....more
Meteors are streaks of light, usually lasting just a few seconds, which people occasionally see in the night sky. They are sometimes called "shooting stars" or "falling stars", though they are not stars...more
NASA's Cassini spacecraft is in orbit around the planet Saturn. Cassini carried a landing probe, named Huygens, with it on its long journey from Earth. On December 24, 2004, Cassini released the Huygens...more