Twilight Haze Shines Over Saturn's Big Moon Titan in Gorgeous Cassini Photo

Saturn's Moon Titan with haze
(Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)

A stunning new view of Saturn's largest moon, Titan, captures beautiful layers of bluish-yellow haze in the moon's atmosphere. 

The image was taken by NASA's Cassini spacecraft on March 31, 2005. The photo shows individual layers of haze in the upper atmosphere of Titan — the second-largest moon in the solar system and the only moon known to have clouds and a dense atmosphere. 

Like Earth's atmosphere, Titan's consists primarily of molecular nitrogen. However, unlike Earth, the moon's clouds, lakes and rain are made up of hydrocarbons — molecules composed of hydrogen and carbon, such as methane and ethane. These complex hydrocarbons create the think smog observed above Titan, NASA officials said. [In Photos: Cassini Mission Ends with Epic Dive into Saturn]

"Titan's atmosphere features a rich and complex chemistry originating from methane and nitrogen and evolving into complex molecules, eventually forming the smog that surrounds the moon," NASA officials wrote in a description of the photo, which was released last Tuesday (Jan. 16).

The Cassini image was taken in visible light using the spacecraft's wide-angle camera. The photo was captured at a distance of 20,556 miles (33,083 kilometers) from Titan, according to NASA's description. 

"The view looks toward the north polar region on the moon's night side," NASA officials wrote. "Part of Titan’s sunlit crescent is visible at right."

The Cassini mission — a collaboration involving NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency — launched in October 1997. The orbiter reached Saturn on June 30, 2004, and it delivered a lander called Huygens to the surface of Titan in January 2005. 

The mission came to an end on Sept. 15, 2017, when Cassini, which was running low on fuel, intentionally plunged into Saturn's atmosphere. 

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Samantha Mathewson
Contributing Writer

Samantha Mathewson joined as an intern in the summer of 2016. She received a B.A. in Journalism and Environmental Science at the University of New Haven, in Connecticut. Previously, her work has been published in Nature World News. When not writing or reading about science, Samantha enjoys traveling to new places and taking photos! You can follow her on Twitter @Sam_Ashley13.