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Titan – A moon of Saturn: What is so special about Titan and it's composition

Updated on February 4, 2012


Titan itself is a moon of Saturn and it Orbits at a mean distance of 1,221,870km. It is about 0.4 times the size of the Earth at just over 2570km, however it only has a density of 0.0225 times that of Earth at about 1.3452x1023 kg. This tells us that it's bulk composition is much less dense than that of the Earth.

A very interesting fact is that it is the only other body in the Solar system with stable liquid bodies at the surface and this is what is so fascinating, what does it mean, what is the liquid, how did they form, could they support life?

One of the theories of the internal structure of Titan

Composition of the moon of Saturn

For those of you that don't know, satellite is another word for moon. So what is special about Titan and how is it composed. As we have already said it is the only other body in the solar system with stable liquid at the surface, it is also the only Satellite to have a fully developed atmosphere consisting of complex compounds. It's composition is approximately 98.4% Nitrogen, 1.4% Methane and 0.2% Hydrogen as well as traces of more complex hydrocarbons.

Titan itself has four layers:

  • A Rocky core composed of mainly silicate rocks. NB// Recent interpretations of gravitational measurements of Titan lead us to believe that the core may actually be a slushy mix of ice and rock. This would most likely have occurred because the planet never got warm enough to fully differentiate.

  • A high pressure ice section, very little at the present time is known about this layer.

  • A liquid layer which most likely has a composition of ammonia and water, with the ammonia allowing the water to stay liquid to temperatures as low as-97 centigrade.

  • The surface layer of Ice, this has features similar tot that of Earth; with bodies of stable liquid, dune like structures, volcanic features (cryovolconism). Titan has some varied geology including surface features which seem to wander across the face of the planet, which as you can probably imagine is slightly unusual, this leads us to the fact that the surface must be completely isolated from the core by the fluid layer giving rise to a free floating crust. As this would allow free rotation of the surface.

Atmosphere on Titan

The atmosphere has fully developed which is fascinating in itself. Methane condenses out of the atmosphere above the Tropopause which is at about 35km. This leads to a rise in concentration of methane from here down to about 8km where it settles to about 4.9% which allows clouds to form. If you look at pictures of Titan you will see that it has an orange Haze and this cannot be explained by its composition. So what can explain it? Well the answer is that small quantities of complex chemicals called Tholins are present, these are created when methane reacts with ultraviolet light. Another strange aspect of the atmosphere is that this reaction should have meant that all the methane in the atmosphere should have been converted. However this has not occurred, why. Well it is clear that there must be a source of replenishment on Titan and it is likely that the process responsible for this is cryovolconism.

Huygens Descending through Titan's atmosphere


Titan is a geologically active planet and one with many exciting features some of which are explained in the following hubs.


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    • dipless profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Manchester

      @TF Thank you it is an impressive video I agree, yes it is the sun, it's the Tholins which reflect huge amounts of light in the orange spectrum which leads to such a vivid and impressive colour, Indeed Saturn and therefore Titan receives about 1/100 the Solar energy flux, but that is still more than enough photons to make the the moon appear so bright. Thanks for commenting.

      @alcosin that's not Nerdy mine is a close toss up between Titan and Io which I hope to do a hub on next.

    • alocsin profile image


      6 years ago from Orange County, CA

      It's probably awfully nerdy of me to have a favorite moon, but Titan is it. So I'm glad you're highlighting it. Voting this Up and Interesting.

    • TFScientist profile image

      Rhys Baker 

      6 years ago from Peterborough, UK

      That video is amazing. Is it just the sun that illuminates the sky so brilliantly? I didn't think something so far from the sun could be so bright - particularly on the surface of a moon! Great hub. Voted up and interesting.

    • dipless profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Manchester

      Thank you for spotting the typo it is much appreciated. Indeed it is quite amazing and we should know more in 2014 -16 when the latest missions land. Hoping to get some amazing images of the lakes from close up. Also finding out about the composition of the lakes and seeing rain on another planet would all be amazing. Not to forget the very slim chance of finding life. Very exciting times ahead.

    • wandererh profile image

      David Lim 

      6 years ago from Singapore

      I have really been out of touch as I can't believe we have actually landed on Titan years ago. Thanks for this hub and by the way, you got a typo on the third paragraph in which you said, "satellite is another sword for moon".

    • dipless profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Manchester

      You are very welcome, glad you enjoyed it :)

    • KrystalD profile image


      6 years ago from Los Angeles

      Fascinating and informative. Thanks.


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