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Titan has had *enough* of Saturn, leaving the planet 100X faster than expected

9 Jun 2020, 13:00 UTC
Titan has had *enough* of Saturn, leaving the planet 100X faster than expected
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Personally, if I were orbiting Saturn, I'd want to stick around as long as possible. But Titan, however, is not me, and is hightailing it away from the planet — receding from Saturn 100 times faster than expected.

Not that it's exactly zipping away; it's moving at 11 centimeters per year from Saturn. Your hair grows more than twice that fast. Still, at this rate, it'll leave Saturn in about 5 billion years, which on a galactic timescale is imminent.

The reason it's moving away at all is due to tides. I have an article explaining how this works in detail (and a Crash Course Astronomy episode dedicated to it as well). In a nutshell, the gravity of a moon creates a bulge in its host planet. The planet rotates rapidly, and that bulge gets carried ahead of the moon a bit. In turn, the bulge gravitationally pulls on the moon, giving it more orbital energy, which means the moon slowly moves away from the planet. This happens with our own Moon, which recedes from the Earth by about 4 cm per year.

Titan is a gigantic moon, the second largest in the solar system and almost as big as ...

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