Titan – A Home Away From Home

Photo Credit: Jason Major

Scientists and geeks all over the world salivate at the thought of extra-terrestrial life. Within our solar system, Titan, the largest moon of Saturn, provided the most likely candidate since it has stable bodies of surface liquid.

Unfortunately, our tremendous efforts to find out if there may be Titanites that we can play E.T. with hasn’t turned out any results. However, latest images from Cassini, the internationally managed spacecraft that was sent to examine Titan, has proven that Titan is a lot like good ol’ Earth.

It’s a planet of 16 Earth day long days, with surface temperatures of mid-90 kelvins (around 288 degrees Farenheit, -177.7 degrees Celcius) so how can we call it “Earth-like”?

The images in 2006 compared with images in 2009 had significantly more cloud cover: this gave concrete evidence that Titan’s atmosphere changes with the seasons – just like Earth’s!

An infrared mapping spectrometer gathered data that allowed us to examine surface temperatures on Titan. Not only has Cassini revealed seasonal change, but it seems the surface temperature also changes from day to night. While the change isn’t much – like 1.5 kelvins – it’s still behaviour that’s similar to Earth’s. Which is rather exciting to see!

The final piece of evidence that gives Titan the exalted position of Earth-like is its structure. A paper by Dominic Fortes, based at University College London, England, addressed a long-standing mystery of the internal structure of Titan.

It seems that the new data from Cassini meant he could tell that the planet is likely to be partially or possibly even fully differentiated. What the hell does that mean? It means that the core is denser than the outer layers. Earth is fully differentiated with a dense iron core. Fortes’ model suggests Titan doesn’t have a metallic core, but it does suggest that Titan’s general structure is similar to that of Earth’s.

Who knows, maybe with a few more leaps of technology we’ll be able to figure out a way to terraform the already Earth-like Titan and it’ll become the new holiday destination, the new place to raise your kiddies.

Or maybe we’ll just learn how to 3D print planets.

[Via Science Daily]