A Discovery of ‘Titanic’ Proportions

Saturn's moon Titan is a strange place. For one, it is very large: bigger than the planet Mercury. It also has a dense atmosphere, which is unique among all the moons of the Solar System. Most unusually, it has lakes. Titan and Earth are the only bodies in the solar system that have permanent liquid bodies on the surface. Unlike Earth, Titan does not have any water: it's lakes are made up of methane. Indeed, Titan has a complete hydrological cycle, with clouds, lakes, and rain, except that the liquid in question is made of hydrocarbons. This makes it an eerie reflection of Earth.

Most of Titan's lakes exist near the poles, where it is cold enough to keep the methane liquid. In the tropics, there are vast deserts with dunes, not unlike terrestrial deserts. It was believed that tropical Titan was too hot for lakes to form.

However, scientists have now discovered oases in the deserts of Titan. These lakes are fed from beneath, suggesting the presence of vast underground rivers. This would indicate the Titan has a rich hydrological cycle.

Life as we know it requires a few things to form: water, energy, and some basic chemicals to act as the building material. Now, Titan has no water and is very cold. However, liquid methane may be good enough. Titan receives abundant radiation from Saturn, and the vast deposits of hydrocarbons provide lots of building material and food for any microorganisms.

We won't know if primitive life lives on Titan until we find any. By being so far from the sun, these creatures almost certainly wouldn't be fed by photosynthesis. However, even on Earth are bacteria that get all their energy by breaking down certain chemicals. It may be possible for a single celled organism to feed on the vast hydrocarbon deposits on Titan, eking out a humble living.

For our own purposes, Titan might make a good spot for colonization. It is very cold, but no body in the solar system has an Earth Like temperature. The dense atmosphere would make landing a craft very easy. Paradoxically, landing on Titan would require less fuel landing on the moon. This is because on Titan a craft could glide in, whereas on the moon it would need to use rockets to slow its descent. Aircraft would function very well on Titan: the dense atmosphere and low gravity would make helicopters extremely efficient. Humanity could use the methane for fuel and power, and mine Saturn's rings for water and minerals. With such abundant energy, crops could easily be grown in greenhouses. The people of Titan could use the hydrocarbon deposits to produce chemicals, shipping these back to Earth along with rare minerals harvested from Saturn's rings. This would form the base of the Titanic economy.



1 Response

  1. Helmut Albrecht
    I like this idea about the "Titanic Economy" as long as it will be smooth sailing.

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