Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day we feature a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

September 23, 1995
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Titan: Saturn's Smog Moon
Credit: NASA, Voyager 1

Explanation: The largest moon of Saturn is a rare wonder. Titan is the only one of Saturn's moons with an atmosphere, and one of only two moons in the Solar System with this distinction (Neptune's Triton is the other). Titan's thick cloudy atmosphere is mostly nitrogen, like Earth's, but contains 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 cause some to speculate that Titan may harbor life! Because of its thick cloud cover, however, Titan's actual surface properties remain mysterious. Voyager 1 flew by in 1980 taking the above picture, and recently much has been learned from Hubble Space Telescope observations. The Cassini mission currently scheduled for launch in 1997 will map Titan's surface, helping to solve some of its mysteries.

Tomorrow's picture: Mimas: Small Moon with A Big Crater

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Authors & editors: Robert Nemiroff (GMU) & Jerry Bonnell (USRA).
NASA Technical Rep.: Sherri Calvo. Specific rights apply.
A service of: LHEA at NASA/ GSFC