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What's moving on Titan

  • Key Stage 3
  • Popular Activity
  • Topical

Type: Activity
Learning Strategy: Information retrieval
Topic: States of matter

On 14 January, space probe Huygens landed gently on Titan, the biggest of Saturn's known moons. One and a half hours later, stunning photos, sound recordings and other data from Huygens reached Earth, giving unprecedented insights into the nature of Titan's alien world. The venture was truly international, with the European Space Agency's probe leaving Earth aboard NASA's Cassini spacecraft seven years ago.

There are two student activities – one involves labeling a diagram to tell students on Earth about the nature of Titan. The other asks students to take the role of Titanian space explorers and use data to compare the solids, liquids and gases on Titan and Earth.

Published: 27th January 2005
Reviews & Comments: 6

Learning objectives

Pupils will compare the properties of solids, liquids and gases and appreciate how liquids can change the shapes of solids through weathering.

Try the activity

You will need Acrobat Reader installed to open the activity sheets.

11 – 14 (KS3)
Particle model of solids, liquids and gases [QCA Unit 7G] - describe and explain observations, using the particle model

Running the activity

Suggested time: 30 minutes. This could be shortened to 15 minutes if students write the newspaper reports at home.

Starter activity: If possible, project page 1 as students enter the class. Ask them to discuss the questions. This page has pictures of Huygens' landing and Titan's surface. The answers to the questions are on page 2, but students can guess at all but the italicized words:
river-delta carved out by methane rain
ice pebbles smoothed out by abrasion with liquid methane
sound of the probe passing through Titan's atmosphere (like wind)

Main activity: Give a copy of page 2 to each group of students. Set the task – students read the article and use the information to label the diagrams.

Next, students can tackle the task on page 3. They take the role of space explorers from Titan, and use data to write a report on differences between Earth and Titan. To meet the curriculum objective, it is vital for students to focus on the states of methane and water on Earth and on Titan. The boiling point of methane is -164C and its melting point is -182C.

For the plenary, ask students to present their reports. Others can give (constructive!) comments.

News links

NASA / Jet Propulsion Laboratory
This is a detailed and exciting website, which includes pages specially for schools.
European Space Agency
This website includes a great deal of exciting information and some excellent images.
BBC news
This is an accessible report of the Huygens mission and includes excellent animations, graphics and links to other sites.

Reviews & Comments

Write your online review to share your feedback and classroom tips with other teachers. How well does it work, how engaging is it, how did you use it, and how could it be improved?

What's moving on Titan review

Apr 10th, 2013

5 Star

Used twice with lower ability Year 8 groups as part of the solar system topic but also to recap solids, liquids and gases. Very good activity. Both times the focus was on the report, rather than the other activities (which we also did though). Can recommend and will use again.

Reviewer: Sarah Jakoby

What's moving on titan

Apr 7th, 2010

5 Star

Reviewer: Kumi YATSUZUKA

What's moving on titan

Dec 10th, 2008

4 Star

This is an great resource to engage students when revising space.

Reviewer: H Mould

Titan July 5th

Jul 5th, 2005

4 Star

We have just come to the end of the topic on space with year 7. We used it to link particles with space, so encouraged recall. They enjoyed writing their descriptions and made postcards that were 'sent home' to Titan.

Reviewer: Daryl McPhail


Apr 9th, 2005

4 Star


I used this upd8 activity with my Year 9 class with great success. They really enjoyed it partly because of its outer space theme. Not only was it a very topical activity but it linked the ideas found in the Particle Model of matter with examples of compounds like methane which, pupils had a little familiarity with.

Previously, these pupils had encountered methane whilst trying to write out and balance combustion equations. So, it was good for them to encounter methane in a different context. This activity nicely reinforced the ideas about Melting and Boiling points and substances like methane could simultaneously exist as a solid, a gas and possibly a liquid just like water on Earth. In total we spent about 30 minutes on the activity in the last part of a double lesson.

I started by projecting the first slide and discussed the opening questions about what could have caused the strange features found on Titan. There were some interesting suggestions from pupils, including water! The pupils then got into groups as I handed out photocopies of the second sheet for them to look at and then discuss in detail. I have found this quite an effective way of getting pupils to think first of some general ideas and then formulate their ideas further, by a focused group discussion. By giving out only one sheet per group the pupils spend more time discussing their ideas and less time writing (it also cut down on the cost of photocopying).

With the second sheet, each group had to critically review the scientific text. I asked them to underline any keywords, which helped them to understand the text (this is a good Y9 SATs technique for pupils when answering level 6 and 7 exam questions). Once they had done this part of the task the pupils wrote down the group ideas in the text boxes provided. Interestingly, pupils were able to recall quite clearly the ideas about weathering they previously learnt in Y8.

The final sheet was a bit of fun and the most enjoyable part of the activity for them. The task got pupils to compare Titan with Earth and report back as Alien reporters for the Titan Space Agency. Again, pupils had to critically assess the given data about the atmosphere, rocks and volcanic effusions comparing Titan with Earth.

For the last 5 minutes of the activity each group reported their findings to the class. One pupil used a very convincing alien-like voice for added effect!

During the whole Titan activity I found that pupils exhibited a range of different skills including analysis, discussion and critical thinking skills. This activity certainly promoted a nice VAK learning approach to the end of this lesson and gave me a good hook for the follow up, next lesson.

Reviewer: Richard Waller


Feb 5th, 2005

4 Star

This activity is topical and interests (most!) pupils immediately. The suggestion is to use it is part of particles but I think it would work better with the rocks unit and to talk about evidence of igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic rocks. I didn't like the little green aliens on the third sheet and didn't use this.

Reviewer: Sue Reeve