Little Bits of History

Titan Discovered

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 25, 2013
Christiaan Huygens

Christiaan Huygens

March 25, 1655: A Dutch scientist finds the moon – around Saturn. Christiaan Huygens was a mathematician, astronomer, and physicist. He discovered light was made of waves, helped develop modern calculus, and made advances in sound perception. He found wondrous things in the night sky, from moons to nebula. He designed a 50 power refracting telescope to see what was out there. He found the first moon of Saturn’s 60 known moons.

Titan is the tenth largest body in the solar system. The Sun, 7 planets, and Ganymede (one of Jupiter’s moons) are larger. Titan has a radius of 1,600 miles. Mercury, the smallest planet, measures 1,515 miles while our own Moon is 1,079.4 miles. Saturn, the second largest planet, has a radius of 36,184 miles which is more than 9 times the radius of Earth. Titan is cold with a surface temperature around -289⁰  F. It has a thick atmosphere and clouds, the only moon in the solar system to have either.

Huygens was inspired by Galileo’s discovery of the first four moons of Jupiter. Huygens discovered what he called “Saturni Luna” or Saturn Moon and between 1673 and 1686 Giovanni Cassini discovered four more moons around the gas giant. Huygens first thought the rings around Saturn were solid, but they have been proven to be ice chunks and rocks. The Cassini-Huygens spacecraft first entered orbit around Saturn on June 30, 2004. The craft, named for the 17th century scientists, began in-depth and close-up study of the planet system.

The Cassini-Huygens spacecraft was launched October 15, 1997 and was a combined project of NASA/ESA/ASI. The Cassini orbiter separated from the Huygens probe on December 25, 2004 and the probe reached Titan on January 14, 2005. It entered the atmosphere, landed, and continued to send data for 90 minutes after touchdown. The information sent back from both the orbiter and the probe shows us a planet-like moon with many parallels to Earth. Titan has lakes, rivers, channels, dunes, rain, snow, clouds, mountains, and maybe volcanoes. The mission’s life has been extended another two years and will hopefully reveal even more secrets hidden in space.

“[The Cassini-Huygens mission] will probably help answer some of the big questions that NASA has in general about origins and where we came from and where life came from.” – Bob Mitchell

“At first the Huygens camera just saw haze over the distant surface.” – Erich Karkoschka

“We have at last glimpsed the surface of the fabled world, Titan, Saturn’s largest moon and the greatest single expanse of unexplored territory remaining in the Solar System today.” – Carolyn Porco

“The light on the night side of Saturn is brighter than a full moon here on Earth … even though [Saturn is] ten times further from the Sun … because you’ve got these rings everywhere just filling the night sky.” – Andrew Ingersoll

This article first appeared at in 2010. Editor’s update: Christiaan Huygens was born in 1629 at The Hague, Dutch Republic. His father was a friend of René Descartes. Christiaan studied law and mathematics at the University of Leiden and the College of Orange in Breda. He worked for a short time as a diplomat before returning to the sciences. He was elected to the Royal Society in 1663 and moved to Paris. There he held a position at the French Academy of Sciences under the patronage of Louis XIV. His paper, “Astroscopia Compendiaria” was published in 1684 and introduced his new aerial (tubeless) telescope. He became ill in 1681 and moved back to The Hague. After a failed attempt to return to Paris in 1885 (due to the revocation of the Edict of Nantes), he remained in the Dutch Republic and died there in 1695 at the age of 66.

Also on this day: On Your Marks – In 1668, the first horse race was run in the American colonies.
First Passenger Train – In 1908, the Oystermouth Railway began service.
Jobs – In 1894, Coxey’s Army began their march on Washington, D.C.