Tonight's Sky
Sun
Sun
Moon
Moon
Mercury
Mercury
Venus
Venus
Mars
Mars
Jupiter
Jupiter
Saturn
Saturn

Tonight's Sky — Change location

OR

Searching...

Tonight's Sky — Select location

Tonight's Sky — Enter coordinates

° '
° '

Does Titan experience any tides in its oceans, or is it tidally locked with no tides?

Richard Robinson
Clay, New York
ASYSK0618Q1
Titan’s orbit is slightly elliptical, bringing it closer to Saturn during some points and taking it farther during others. The moon is most spherical at the farthest point from the planet, and most football-shaped when it passes closest to Saturn; the amount of deformation Titan experiences requires a liquid ocean beneath its surface.
NASA/JPL
In 2012, Cassini revealed that, based on data taken between 2006 and 2011, Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, changes shape due to tides raised on the satellite as it circles the planet. Over the course of its nearly 16-day orbit, Titan’s surface deforms by more than 33 feet (10 meters).

This amount of tidal deformation is associated with a malleable, likely liquid ocean layer inside the moon. Current estimates place Titan’s ocean at more than 62 miles (100 km) thick. If Titan were solid all the way through, the expected deformation of the surface throughout its orbit would total only about 3 feet (1 m).

However, like most of the solar system’s larger satellites, Titan is tidally locked to Saturn. A tidally locked satellite simply rotates once per every orbit around its parent body, always showing the same face to the planet. Such satellites can still experience tides. Because Titan’s orbit is elliptical, the gravitational influence of Saturn from the near to far side of the moon varies throughout its orbit, which causes the deformations recorded by Cassini.

Alison Klesman 
Associate Editor
 

0

JOIN THE DISCUSSION

Read and share your comments on this article
Comment on this article
Want to leave a comment?
Only registered members of Astronomy.com are allowed to comment on this article. Registration is FREE and only takes a couple minutes.

Login or Register now.
0 comments
ADVERTISEMENT

FREE EMAIL NEWSLETTER

Receive news, sky-event information, observing tips, and more from Astronomy's weekly email newsletter. View our Privacy Policy.

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
asy_LifeOnMars_rightrail

Click here to receive a FREE e-Guide exclusively from Astronomy magazine.

Find us on Facebook