Saturn’s Moon, Titan

Saturn’s Moon, Titan, is one of the top places for human colonization in outer space

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Saturn’s Moon, Titan, is a top space exploration target for humans in our solar system.

Titan: Key Takeaways

  • Temperature is -180 deg. C (allowing Methane to exist in liquid form).
  • Atmospheric pressure is 45% greater than Earth.
  • Titan is 40% the size of Earth.
  • According to NASA, Titan’s crust is made of H20 ice, and has liquid water as well as ammonia ocean beneath the surface.
  • Titan is almost 1 billion miles from Earth.

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Why explore Saturn’s Moon, Titan?

Titan is a rare and unique place for a number of reasons. There are four components of Titan that make it unique and worth exploring.

1. Precipitation

Aside from Earth, Titan is the only place in our solar system that has precipitation based weather systems.

On Titan, precipitation is in the form of liquid methane and other hydrocarbons, as opposed to water like on Earth.

2. Atmosphere

Of the 160+ known moons in our solar system, Titan is the only one that has an atmosphere.

An atmosphere is an important feature because it shields the planet from harmful radiation, which protects anything that may want to live on or near the surface.

Atmospheres also contribute to the greenhouse effect, trapping heat near the surface, allowing temperature regularity. Titan is so cold that it may seem surprising to hear about the greenhouse effect keeping the planet warm. The fact that Titan is so far from the sun means that it simply receives less heat.

source: NASA Cassini

3. Titan’s geological chemistry

Titan has unique chemistry that features an abundance of methane and a nitrogen based atmosphere that is 50% denser than Earth’s. Methane is a molecule that consists of 4 hydrogen atoms bonded to a single carbon, with a relatively low atomic mass, it is normally a gas on Earth at room temperature and standard conditions. Titan’s conditions, however, are cold enough that methane exists in liquid form.

On Titan, the Selk impact crater location features conditions for life as we know it: evidence of past liquid water, hydrocarbon molecules, as well as oxygen, nitrogen, and energy. The crater was likely formed by some sort of asteroidal impact years ago.

Recently, NASA discovered a unique molecule (cyclopropenylidene) within Titan’s atmosphere, that could be a sign of possible life.

This molecule is interesting not only because it is a carbon based molecule – Titan has plenty of those – but that it is a pre-cursor to biochemical processes performed by biological organisms that we see on Earth.

4. Raw Materials

Humans may one day establish establish satellite colonies in order to access these valuable raw materials like methane to use as fuel for rockets and other vehicles.

Titan’s presence of hydrocarbons in such an abundance on its surface as well as atmosphere, makes it attractive as a possible re-fueling destination.

Methane, for example, is a great potential fuel source.

According to SoCalGas, methane produces more heat and light energy by mass than other fossil fuels or hydrocarbons. It produces significantly less carbon dioxide and other pollutants that contribute to smog and unhealthy air.

Methane is lightweight and is more stable than some commonly used rocket propellants such as liquid hydrogen.

Titan is considerably further than our moon as well as Mars. Because of this, sending unmanned robotic missions there takes significant time (Cassini took 7 years, for example) so we should make an effort to do so sooner to accelerate information gathering.

Astronauts may one day be able to use Titan as a layover location, or a type of galactic gas station, similar to the Moon before longer missions.

Therefore, Titan would make sense as one of the first places where humans may want to establish a base – along with the moon and Mars of course.

Exploring Titan

NASA sent the Cassini-Huygens mission to Titan in 2005 and was actually able to send photos back to Earth.

Since that time, no missions to Titan have been carried out. Perhaps the main reason may be NASA’s budget, which is certainly understandable. We have other initiatives like the International Space Station, the Artemis Space mission, and more.

But there’s good news for our future missions to Titan – in 2026, NASA plans to send another spacecraft towards Titan, which should arrive in 2034. The mission is called Dragonfly, and will examine and document potential chemical processes that could be precursors to life. By taking samples, NASA hopes to find evidence of past life, or at least understand how far prebiotic chemistry may have progressed.

As a drone-based vehicle, the Dragonfly plans to travel over 108 miles, visiting destinations such as the Selk impact crater, which has a large amount of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen present, as well as evidence of water.

Below are a few pictures of the obscure world from that Cassini space rover, which can be accessed via the Nasa Photo Journal. We notice a few specific features of Titan’s surface. But first, consider joining our email list (we only send 1 email per week).

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source: NASA photo journal
  • We’re able to observe methane lakes on the surface.
  • As the spacecraft descended towards Titan, the picture below was taken. Natural drainage channels look like an area where liquid water once flowed. It’s possible there is a shoreline depicted in the photo as well.
source: NASA photo journal

Below is the first up-close photo of Titan’s surface ever taken. We see chunks of ice, which is evidence of water. the second picture shows globules likely made of frozen water. The clusters here with fewer rocks suggest these may be channels where liquid water once flowed.

source: NASA photo journal

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