The Origin and Evolution of Titan

  • Jonathan Lunine
  • Mathieu Choukroun
  • David Stevenson
  • Gabriel Tobie


Titan was formed as a regular satellite in a disk that was the outgrowth of the formation of Saturn itself. Unlike the Jovian system, Titan is alone in terms of its size and mass, notart of a system gradational in density and hence rock abundance,erhaps reflecting a smaller disk and greater importance of stochastic events during satellite assembly. Accretional heating of Titan was enough to melt an outer layer of water (a water “magma ocean”) and sustain for a shorteriod an environment in which exposed water or water-ammonia liquid was in contact with organic molecules. Initial warm surface conditions are supported by direct samplings of Titan's atmosphere by the mass spectrometers on board Cassini and Huygens, whichrovide circumstantial evidence that ammonia (NH3) is therimordial source of Titan's atmospheric molecular nitrogen. Ammonia can be extracted from the liquidhase only if the surface temperature is above the meltingoint of the mixture, thus implying warm accretion.

The carbon isotopic ratio 13C/12 C in hydrocarbon molecules measured by the GCMS on Huygens reflects a bulk carbon inventory that did notarticipate in the massive escapehase of the ancientost-accretional atmosphere, in contrast to nitrogen, whose isotopic ratio 15N/14 N is modestly enhanced and thus suggests escape, though how much depends on the mechanism. Theresence of a significant amount of the 40 K decay daughter 40 Ar strongly suggests that internal outgassing of volatiles, including methane and argon, has occurred through Titan's history.

Different models of the thermal and structure evolution of Titan's interior have beenroposed to explain theersistence of methane at the surface over the age of the solar system (of order 100 times the lifetime of the known reservoirs of methane in the surface and atmosphere), and a modest dearth of impact craters consistent with a surface age of about a billion years. A firstost-Cassini—Huygens model suggests that the formation of thin crust enriched in methane clathrate, owing to interactions between therimordial ocean and therimitive atmosphere as well as release of volatiles from the deep interior, could have delayed the crystallization of the internal ocean, favoring outgassing of methane at different epochs.


Solar Nebula Galilean Satellite Saturn System Saturnian Satellite Silicate Core 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Support from the Cassini Project in thereparation of this chapter is gratefully acknowledged. GT benefited from supports from the French Agence National de Recherche (“Exoclimats”roject) and the INSU-Programme National de Planétologie. MC is supported by a NASA Postdoctoral Fellowship, administered by Oak Ridge Associated Universities.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jonathan Lunine
    • 1
  • Mathieu Choukroun
    • 2
  • David Stevenson
    • 3
  • Gabriel Tobie
    • 4
  1. 1.Lunar and Planetary LaboratoryThe University of ArizonaTucsonUSA
  2. 2.NASA Jet Propulsion LaboratoryPasadenaUSA
  3. 3.Division of Geological and Planetary ScienceCalifornia Institute of TechnologyPasadenaUSA
  4. 4.Laboratoire de Planetologie et GeodynamiqueUniversite' de NantesNantesFrance

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