Volcanic Io and hazy Titan: Interesting moons


I never knew Titan was an interesting moon.

I loved Io better, for the shimmering images of it that came from the Galileo mission (and possibly one of Hubble’s rarer diversions toward the insides of our little suburb of the Milky Way). It looks like a brightly colored crystalline-fired vase. I had an art teacher years ago who was preoccupied with crystalline firings, and I love the starburst shells that spread and touch in circles and gingko-leaf shapes. Io has some of those in green and bright yellow. She is a volcanic moon, and I imagine that’s where a lot of the visual interest comes from.

Titan is one of Saturn’s moons — one planet (and a lot of miles) farther from earth than Io, and it’s a lot less fun to look at from afar. Just a colored sphere, with no detail to speak of in the images we have from the Voyager missions of a few decades ago.


What’s curious, though, is the air. Titan has an atmosphere; the plainness of the images is due to a thick haze around the satellite. What’s more, the sky of Titan contains organic molecules, and the atmosphere may be similar in composition to that of the Earth before the origin of life here.

Now, at nearly 300 degrees (Fahrenheit) below zero, it may be a little chill for life to exist or survive on Titan. Still, it’s an interesting thought. …And there’s life in deep ocean trenches at temperatures that would kill much life and pressure that would kill much more, isn’t there?

These images are from the NASA Galileo and Cassini spacecraft.


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