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It is important to know at any age!
Saturn, along with its frozen retinue of icy rings, dazzling moons, and sparkling moonlets, orbits our Sun about ten times farther out than the Earth. Astronomers received their first collection of detailed data about Titan when the Cassini/Huygens orbiter and lander arrived there in 2004. The Huygens lander successfully obtained revealing images when it drifted down to Titan's tormented, hydrocarbon-slashed surface, as well as when it was still floating slowly and softly down through the moon's thick, foggy, orange atmosphere--which has 1.4 times greater pressure than that of our own planet. These pictures, when combined with other studies using instruments aboard the Cassini orbiter, reveal to curious planetary scientists that Titan's geological features include lakes and river channels filled with methane, ethane, and propane. Titan's strange surface also shows mountains and sand dunes--and it is pockmarked by craters. The rippling dunes form when fierce winds sweep up loose particles from the surface and then tosses them downwind. However, the sands of Titan are not like the sands on our Earth. Titan's "sand" is both bizarre and alien, probably composed of very small particles of solid hydrocarbons--or, possibly, ice imprisoned within hydrocarbons--with a density of about one-third that of the sand on our own planet. Furthermore, Titan's gravity is low. In fact, it is only approximately one-seventh that of Earth. This means that, working in combination with the low density of Titan's sand particles, they carry only the small weight of a mere four percent that of terrestrial sand. Titan's "sand" is about the same light-weight as freeze-dried grains of coffee!
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Titan is the largest moon of the gas-giant planet Saturn, as well as the second-largest moon in our entire Solar System--after Jupiter's enormous Ganymede. Indeed, this smoggy orange moon is almost as big as the planet Mars! Because Titan is situated in the outer domain of our Solar System, circling Saturn--which is the sixth major planet from our Star, the Sun--it is extremely cold, and its chemical atmosphere is frozen. This very interesting atmosphere is composed of a mix of compounds that many astronomers think are comparable to those that existed in our own planet's primordial atmosphere. Titan's strange, dense, orange atmosphere contains large quantities of "smoggy" hydrocarbons. This very heavy shroud of obscuring smog is so extremely dense that it showers "gasoline-like" rain down on the tortured surface of this distant moon-world.
Earth's Moon is our planet's closest neighbor in space, but it is remarkable how even neighbors can keep secrets from each other. For years, astronomers thought that Earth's Moon was barren of water and other volatile compounds, but this notion began to change in 2008, when a team of planetary scientists announced that they had discovered small quantities of water imprisoned within volcanic glass beads, that astronauts had carried back to Earth from the Apollo 13 and 17 missions to our Moon. In 2011, additional research revealed extremely tiny crystalline formations within those beads--indicating that they contained quantities of water similar to some basalts on Earth.
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Saturn is the smaller of the two gas-giant planets dwelling in the outer regions of our Solar System, far from the friendly light and warmth of our incandescent golden Star, the Sun. The larger of the two gas-giants is Jupiter, which is also the largest planet in our Solar System. Some scientists think that the two gas giants do not have solid surfaces hidden beneath their immense and heavy gaseous envelopes, although others think that they probably do contain relatively small cores of rocky-icy material. The two other large denizens of the outer limits of our Sun's family are Uranus and Neptune, which are classified as ice-giants, because they have large icy cores buried beneath their heavy atmospheres which, though massive, are not nearly as heavy as the gaseous atmospheres borne by the two gas-giants.
Jupiter, like Saturn, is circled by more than 60 known satellites. Many of them are tiny moonlets, measuring only a few miles across, and are probably captured asteroids or minor planets--or their shattered remains.
Asphaug and co-author Dr. Andreas Reufer of the University of Bern in Switzerland, devised their new giant impact model using sophisticated computer simulations. They discovered that mergers between moons the size of Jupiter's Galilean satellites--which range in size from 1,940 miles wide (Europa) to 3, 271 miles across (Ganymede)--would tear icy stuff off the outer layers of the colliding moons. This icy material would then form spiral arms, which would ultimately merge together due to gravitational attraction to create Saturn's mid-sized icy moons.