Another Mooningless Title..

Jun 1, 2015

Voyage to Titan
Credit NASA

This is “Looking UP! in southern Colorado,” from the Colorado Springs Astronomical Society. I’m Hal Bidlack, and there are lots of reasons to look up!

The planet Saturn has 67 known moons, more than any other planet in the solar system so far. Two of the most interesting are the biggest, Titan, and one of the smallest, Enceladus.

Titan is the second largest moon in the solar system, and is even larger than the planet Mercury. Titan is bright enough to be seen in relatively small telescopes.

Titan is special in many ways. First it has an atmosphere even thicker than the earth’s, made up mostly of nitrogen. But there is no oxygen there to breathe; most of the rest of the atmosphere is methane. Another amazing thing about Titan is that it is the only other place in our solar system where we have seen liquid lakes on the surface. But these lakes are very different than those on earth. Because the temperature on Titan is 290° below zero, it isn’t water that we are seeing, but rather liquid methane, so don’t go swimming. One lake on Titan is as big as Earths’s Lake Ontario, and maybe over 100 feet deep.

At the other end of the scale is the much smaller moon of Saturn, Enceladus, at only a little over 300 miles across. But Enceladus is interesting because it is completely covered in water ice, and has lots of geysers blasting jets of water off into space. In fact, one of the rings of Saturn is made up mostly of ice blasted out from Enceladus. But the most amazing thing about Enceladus likely is the fact that that a NASA probe discovered that about 20 to 25 miles below the icy frozen surface of Enceladus is an ocean of relatively warm liquid water 6 miles deep. The existence of liquid water on another world is incredibly exciting, because Enceladus also seems to have many of the organic compounds needed for life. NASA is already thinking about a spacecraft that could land on Enceladus and drill down through the ice to the liquid water. Wouldn’t it be amazing if we discovered creatures swimming around down there? Stay tuned!

If you’d like to take a closer look at the Saturn’s moons Titan or Enceladus or any of the other wonderful and amazing things in the sky, please visit KRCC.org or CSASTRO.org for a link to information on our monthly meetings and our free public star parties! 

This is Hal Bidlack for the Colorado Springs Astronomical Society, telling you to keep looking up, Southern Colorado!