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Titan, one among the 62 moons that orbit the planet Saturn is also its largest. Measuring in at 5,149.4 kilometers in diameters, Titan is about half as big as the earth and double the size of the earth’s moon.
However, we cannot just stop the comparison between the Titan and the earth just there, let us delve a little deeper because Titan is very special!
Titan was discovered on March 25, 1655, by Christiaan Huygens and was given the name by John Herschel after the mythological Greek gods. Even though Titan is a Moon, its atmosphere is strikingly similar to that of the early earth.
It has a heavy atmosphere and cloud formations within it. Such an atmospheric condition was believed to be present on earth, which is believed to be a fuel for the formation of life on Earth.
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Many believe that Titan has its own moon, however, this statement is false. Titan is itself a moon of Saturn and doesn’t have any other celestial bodies revolving around it.
It is, however, larger than the planet Mercury and is almost as large as the planet Mars.
The atmosphere isn’t just the only thing that makes Titan different, it also has lakes and other flowing waterbodies like that we see on earth. But they hide a big difference, the flowing lakes of Titan aren’t filled with water but with hydrocarbons, to be more precise – liquid methane and liquid ethane.
These liquid evaporates and forms the clouds of Titan. And since their cloud are made with methane and ethane, it rains the same stuff on Titan.
However, interestingly, only 5% of Titan’s atmosphere contains hydrocarbon mix as the rest is Nitrogen.
Another fascinating characteristic of Titan is that the surface of Titan is covered with a sheet of ice. Researchers believe that water is present underneath the icy layer, and the contact between the water and the hydrocarbons may act as the catalyst life.
More earthlike than our neighbors
There are also desert-like areas covered by a soil-like substance. These are not silicate materials that we see on earth but are solid water coated with hydrocarbons that fall from the atmosphere, near black in color.
So when looking for a place that is similar to earth, Titan presents itself as a viable candidate, however, Titan is also a place of vast extremes. At the highest temperatures, the Titan measures at a bone-chilling -179°C.
So the ice is not going to melt anytime soon and it’s going to stay like that for many, many years.
However, the temperature of Titan will increase gradually over the years, and scientists believe that 5-6 billion years from now, it will reach something in the range of -70°C. In such a temperature range, the Titan will be able to sustain oceans that are a mixture of Ammonia and water.
Even though the Titan has an abundance of Hydrocarbons, there is a total absence of Carbon Dioxide (CO2), the critical component that ensures the sustenance of plant life.
There are also visible craters that are scattered over Titan. This is a sign that it had impacts on its surface, possible from meteorites in the past.
One of the defining characteristics of the earth’s atmosphere is the changing seasons. Titan also has seasons, but unlike earth, each season lasts 7.5 years.
In June 2016, the Cassini Orbiter spotted something very interesting at the north pole of Titan. A bright patch was discovered which spaced an area of 120,000 square kilometers.
The satellite picked it up and after analysis, the researchers were able to figure what it was, the evaporation of a puddle that was caused by methane rain.
The rainfall during that time was a signal that Titan was slowly getting into the summer season. Cassini, the Saturn orbiting satellite had special infrared cameras that helped it to study what happened beyond the thick atmosphere of Titan.
Another feature that makes earth so suitable for us is the level of gravity that it has. Imagine earth without gravity, and surely chaos ensues.
Since Titan has less mass than earth, it is bound to have less gravitational force. The researchers have calculated that objects in freefall on Titan will have a velocity of only 1.6 meters per second, while the same object will have a velocity of 9.2 meters per second.
In essence, the gravity of Titan is somewhat equivalent to that of the Moon. So yes, we can jump higher and farther than we can on the earth when we are on Titan.
Jenelle Wellons, a NASA Instrument Operations engineer shared on Reddit her views on Titan, "How about we consider one of the water worlds in our solar system — Titan. Titan is the largest moon of Saturn, larger than the planet Mercury even, so I think we could settle with plenty room. It has a thick atmosphere that could help protect us from space radiation. It is so dense that we could actually attach wings to our arms and fly on this moon. I don’t know, it just seems like an awesome place to live."
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Her views came as an answer to the question “Where would the most suitable place in the universe be to go if we couldn’t theoretically live on earth anymore?”. Now we would resort to a more common answer that is the moon or Mars.
However, this is a very interesting take as everything that she shared are facts about Titan that makes it a viable choice, not today, but definitely when the time comes!
It is truly amazing to see the earth like atmosphere in our same solar system. Surely, Titan is nowhere fit to support life, but having the knowledge that we have something remotely similar to earth gives us hope of finding a planet like earth one day, a safe haven if and when we have pushed on limits here on mother earth.