Who Discovered Saturn’s Biggest Moon Titan, How Did Titan Get Its Name, and What Is Titan Made of?

Titan was discovered in 1655 by the Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens.

The moon’s name came from John Herschel, son of William Herschel, discoverer of Mimas and Enceladus, in 1847, and was inspired by the names of the mythological Titans, sisters and brothers of Cronos, the Greek Saturn.

Saturn’s largest and brightest moon, Titan, seems to hold some ingredients for life, such as a nitrogen atmosphere, chemical interaction with sunlight, landmasses, water, silicates, and carbon dioxide.

Unfortunately, its nitrogen and methane atmosphere, which hangs like a dense, orange smog, blocked detection of any surface detail by the Voyager spacecraft mission (1980).

Theoretical models of the surface predict a huge ocean of liquid methane broken up either by rocky land or masses of frozen methane, water, and/or carbon dioxide.

Chemical reactions in the atmosphere are similar to those believed to have created a friendly environment for life early in Earth’s development.

The temperature on Titan, —290°F (-190°C), however, makes life impossible.

Perhaps when the Sun becomes a red giant in about 5 billion years, and grows beyond Mars’s orbit, Titan’s surface will heat up enough to eventually support life.

Unfortunately, it is precisely the intensely cold temperature that holds Titan’s atmosphere together by slowing down molecular movement.

If the atmosphere heated up, its molecules would move fast enough to escape into space.

Titan might become warm enough for life, but in doing so it would lose its atmosphere.

Without an atmosphere, life on Titan could not survive.

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

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