Titan is the biggest of the 53 known moons orbiting Saturn. It is a cold world enclosed by a thick, hazy atmosphere impenetrable by telescopes and cameras.
With an equatorial radius of 2,575 km (1,600 miles), Titan is the second largest moon in our solar system. It's bigger than our own Moon and even the planet Mercury. Only Jupiter's moon Ganymede is larger than Titan, with a diameter barely 112 km (62 miles) greater.
The temperature at Titan's surface is about -289 degrees Fahrenheit (-178 degrees Celsius).
Titan orbits Saturn at a distance of about 1.2 million km (745,000 miles), taking almost 16 days to complete a full orbit.
Titan is of great interest to scientists because it is the only moon in the solar system known to have clouds and a mysterious, thick, planet-like atmosphere. In 1980, NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft tried to take close up images of the natural features of Titan's landscape, but was unable to penetrate the thick clouds. Instead, the images showed only slight color and brightness variations in the atmosphere. Titan's atmospheric pressure is about 60 percent greater than the Earth's -- roughly the same pressure found at the bottom of a swimming pool.
In 1994, NASA's Hubble Space Telescope recorded pictures of Titan, which suggested that a huge bright "continent" exists on the hemisphere that faces forward in orbit. These Hubble results don't prove that liquid "seas" exist, however; only that Titan has large bright and dark regions on its surface.
NASA's Cassini-Huygens spacecraft (currently orbiting Saturn) should shed new light on Titan's mysteries. The spacecraft's instruments are designed to reveal many of Titan's characteristics. During dozens of flybys, the Cassini orbiter will map Titan with cloud-penetrating radar and collect atmospheric data. The Huygens probe dove through Titan's dense atmosphere on 14 January 2005 with instruments capable of analyzing its components.
Combined with the "big picture" information that the Cassini orbiter will collect during Titan flybys, data from the Huygens probe will provide scientists with critical information that may shed light on ancient questions such as "Where did we come from?" and, "How did the planets form?"
Because of the extremely cold temperatures typical of celestial bodies that are that far away from the sun, the structure of Titan's chemical atmosphere is in a state of deep freeze. It is this chemical composition that interests scientists a great deal because Titan's atmosphere might consist of compounds similar to those present in the primordial days of the Earth's atmosphere. Titan's thick cloudy atmosphere is mostly nitrogen, like Earth's, but may contain much higher percentages of "smog-like" chemicals such as methane and ethane. The smog may be so thick that it actually rains "gasoline-like" liquids. The organic nature of some of the chemicals found in Titan's atmosphere might indicate that this fascinating moon could harbor some form of life.
Titan was discovered on 25 March 1655 by the Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens.
How Titan Got it's Name:
The name Titan comes from a generic term for the children of Ouranos and Gaia. In the Orphic version, the Titans are the ancestors of the human race. The Titans were known to have devoured the limbs of Dionysus, the son of Zeus. Enraged, Zeus struck the Titans with lightning. (Zeus had intended this child to have dominion over the world.) The lightning burned the Titans to ashes, and from the ashes man was formed.