Science

The Island of Sea and Land: Titan’s Mysteries

Not so long ago, anyone who believed in the existence – or even the tiniest probability of the occurrence – of extraterrestrial intelligence, was reprimanded and abashed for sharing their beliefs. In fact, most often the person was brutally executed. A good example is Giordano Bruno, who confidently believed in the existence of various living creatures in outer space, causing the end of his scientific career and his burning at the stake.

In the modern era, the scientist community can neither prove nor disprove Bruno’s fatal idea, but have carried out a continuous and intensive quest to find any kinds of celestial life.

Up to this point, nothing so much as a single germ has been found in space, but, with the aid of cutting-edge probes, mankind has approached closer than ever to a planet which resembles our world, where primitive life could develop relatively soon or could even exist now. This place is christened Titan, the largest of Saturn’s moon and the only moon in solar system with an atmosphere.

A planet which resembles our world, where primitive life could develop relatively soon or could even exist now.

Thanks to the Cassini-Huygens probe, we know a thing or two about Titan. Titan’s surface is carved with rivers, has hilly landscapes, rainfall, floodplains, muddy soil, weather and a whole host of other complex processes at its surface. These breathtaking facts might lead us to think that this world is Earth-like and could serve as a back-up ‘shelter’ for humankind in the case of disaster. But there is another side of Titan – a somewhat alien and hostile side. According to NASA and ESA scientists, Titan’s temperature is around -179 centigrade. Water there exists only in the form of ice and volcanic water-lava, which forms a ocean beneath the planet’s surface.

You might then wonder what flows in Titan’s rivers and what falls in its raindrops. Raindrops are composed of methane and other molecules which exist as gases on Earth, but owing to low temperatures of Titan, form rivers, channels, lakes and falls.

Water there exists only in the form of ice and volcanic water-lava, which forms a ocean beneath the planet’s surface.

Let’s suppose you are there, what would you observe? The waves are impressive, seven times taller and three times slower than the waves of Earth’s oceans. Sure, if your passion is surfing you can’t choose a better destination, but bring your thickest wetsuit. Rainbows would be far larger but an altogether rarer phenomenon, owing to the hazy atmosphere through which sunlight struggles to shine. Exotic volcanoes stand along the horizon, erupting pillars of water from an ocean underneath.

How soon can I get there, I hear you ask? Firstly we should consider the problem of transport when on Titan. A boat is probably the best solution, but Earth-like boats would drown there as methane would not allow them to float. For now, let’s assume we tackled that and material is also resistant to low temperatures. To our disappointment, all of these observations are still within the realm of science fiction realm. But Titan is undeniably a truly unique world of lakes, volcanoes and seasons which beckons scientists to continue their search to resolve Titan’s mysteries and to find, however simple, alien life.

Dmytro Mansura

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Image:Lunar and Planetary Institute via Flickr

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