Titan (moon)

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Titan (pronounced /ˈtaɪtən/, Ancient Greek: Τῑτάν), or Saturn VI, is the largest moon of Saturn, the only natural satellite known to have a dense atmosphere,[8] and the only object other than Earth for which clear evidence of stable bodies of surface liquid has been found.[9]

Titan is the sixth ellipsoidal moon from Saturn. Frequently described as a planet-like moon, Titan has a diameter roughly 50% larger than Earth's moon and is 80% more massive. It is the second-largest moon in the Solar System, after Jupiter's moon Ganymede, and it is larger by volume than the smallest planet, Mercury, although only half as massive. Titan was the first known moon of Saturn, discovered in 1655 by the Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens.[10]

The moon itself is primarily composed of water ice and rocky material. Much as with Venus prior to the Space Age, the dense, opaque atmosphere prevented understanding of Titan's surface until new information accumulated with the arrival of the Cassini–Huygens mission in 2004, including the discovery of liquid hydrocarbon lakes in the satellite's polar regions. These are the only large, stable bodies of surface liquid known to exist anywhere other than Earth. The surface is geologically young; although mountains and several possible cryovolcanoes have been discovered, it is smooth and few impact craters have been discovered.

The atmosphere of Titan is largely composed of nitrogen; minor components lead to the formation of methane and ethane clouds and nitrogen-rich organic smog. The climate—including wind and rain—creates surface features similar to those of Earth, such as sand dunes, rivers, lakes and seas (probably of liquid methane or ethane) and shorelines, and, like on Earth, is dominated by seasonal weather patterns. With its liquids (both surface and subsurface) and robust nitrogen atmosphere, Titan is viewed as analogous to the early Earth, although at a much lower temperature. The satellite has thus been cited as a possible host for microbial extraterrestrial life or, at least, as a prebiotic environment rich in complex organic chemistry. Researchers have suggested a possible underground liquid ocean might serve as a biotic environment.[11][12] It has also been suggested that a form of life may exist on the surface, using liquid methane as a medium instead of water; and anomalies in atmospheric composition have been reported which are consistent with the presence of such a life-form, but which could also be due to an exotic non-living chemistry.[13]

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