Titan (moon of Saturn) is unique in that it possesses a very thick atmosphere. However, Titan is certainly is not the largest of the moons - Ganymede being larger.

What is the current accepted theory as to why Titan has retained its thick atmosphere?


2 Answers 2


It's not really known why only Titan has a thick atmosphere while moons like Ganymede don't.

One thought is that temperatures may have been too high (well above ~40K) in the Jovian subnebula of our solar system due to the greater gravitational potential energy release, mass, and proximity to the Sun, greatly reducing the $NH_{3}$-hydrate inventory accreted by both Callisto and Ganymede. The resulting $N_{2}$ atmospheres might have been too thin to survive the atmospheric erosion effects that Titan has withstood.

EDIT: some links:

http://perso.utinam.cnrs.fr/~mousis/papier3.pdf (though it's from 2002).

http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/2012ttt..work...25N (this paper critiques the previous idea of a $CH_{4}$ supported atmosphere)

I would also think the NASA/JPL Cassini pages would have any up-to-date info in regards to Titan.

  • $\begingroup$ Very nice answer - do you have any links to add to your answer? $\endgroup$
    – user8
    Dec 9, 2013 at 22:59

It has retained it's atmosphere because there is enough water (or ice) to keep it still. That's also how Earth can retain it's atmosphere. If it is a planet or moon like Venus, then the clouds and the greenhouse effect would block the atmosphere, and therefore retain the atmosphere.

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ I fail to see how that makes sense. I don't believe water is relevant. Venus doesn't have much water, but it retains a very think atmosphere. Titan has water, but it's cold enough that it's essentially a mineral. And the greenhouse effect doesn't "block the atmosphere"; it blocks outward infrared radiation, thus making the atmosphere hotter. I'd think that Venus loses more of its atmosphere to space than it would if it were colder. $\endgroup$ Oct 27, 2014 at 18:47

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