Cosmic Water Series Part 2 – Saturn’s Moon Titan.

Of all the bodies in our own solar system, Titan is definitely my favourite. The reason being, it is one of the most likely candidates for life.

I’m sure plenty of subscribers are rolling their eyes thinking; here he goes about Titan again. For this series it is quite relevant as Titan almost certainly contains water!

Titan is the only other body in our solar system that contains a dense nitrogen based atmosphere similar to ours. Titan is known in physics as a Super Rotator because it’s atmosphere rotates faster than its surface in its orbital plane around Saturn.

Titan also has stable liquid oceans on its surface, not water but liquid methane. Due to the density of Titan’s atmosphere, it’s much colder than Earth. Given the fact that it’s much further away from the sun doesn’t help it’s case either.

Although Titan can’t support liquid water on its surface, there is evidence that its surface may rest on a layer of liquid water beneath its surface. Water being closer to a molten core of a celestial body helps water stabilise beneath the surface.

The Cassini probe mission to Saturn surveyed Titan several times over the course of its mission and found that surface features had shifted by up to 19 miles, suggesting that the surface rests on an internal ocean of liquid water and possibly ammonia.

So water beneath the surface, not good for life? Not exactly. On the other hand, Titan is known to have cryo-volcanos. Instead of molten lava spewing from the volcano it is water and ice. Although the surface can’t stabilise liquid water, it is a possibility that en-route to the surface microbes can exist.

In 2005 we landed on Titan with the Huygens probe released from the Cassini probe. The probe was able to send back a photograph showing pebbles and rocks of water ice resting on the surface. It’s the furthest photograph from the surface of an object that NASA have taken.

Will water ever stabilise on Titan? As the sun goes through it’s growth phase it’s diameter will become much larger. Eventually the sun will expand, engulfing Mercury, Venus and Earth. When this happens there could be a possibility the temperature of Titan increases to support bodies of liquid water.

So if Titan does develop a suitable temperature to support water, life could potentially evolve from the existing organic matter on the planet. Could Titan become the next planet to evolve an intelligent civilisation like us very far into the future?

Jude Morrow

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