Titan’sother name is Saturn VI and is the biggest lunar body on planetSaturn. It is ranked second in size in the entire solar system, afterJupiter’s Ganymede. Titan is unique when compared to other moons inthe whole solar system since it is the only one that has clouds andan atmosphere similar to what Earth has. Scientists believe thatthese conditions are very similar to what was found on Earth in itsearly years. The only variation is that Earth receives more sunbeamsthat heat its atmosphere. This essay aims at providing generalinformation about Titan.
TheTitan is one of the seven moons on Saturn and measures about 3,200miles in diameter. It was the first of these moons to be discovered.Its mass is akin to that of Mars and about half that of Earth’s.Temperatures on the surface are as low as negative 179 degreesCelsius. Because of the low temperatures, water is hard as rock andmethane is available in liquid form. Surface pressure on Titan is 1.6bars while Earth’s surface pressure is 1 bar (Dyches, et al, 2014).It takes 15,945 days for Titan to complete one orbit. Scientistsbelieve that Titan and other moons on Jupiter and Satan were formedthrough a process called co-accretion. This process is comparablesimilar to what scientists believe give rise to the planets in theSolar System.
Thetitle Titan comes from Greek mythology. According to Greek legends,Titans were gods that ruled the universe before the Olympians becamerulers (Williams, 2008). The name, just like those of the otherSaturn moons was suggested by John Herschel. Titan was discovered inon 25thMarch 1655 by Dutch astronomer by the name Christiaan Huygens.Huygens was inspired by the achievements of Galileo who madediscoveries of the four large moons on Jupiter earlier in 1610. Since1650, Huygens and his sibling Constantijn had been developingtelescopic technology that was available and achieved major success.They made use one of their inventions to sight Titan as it orbitedSaturn. After discovering Titan, Huygens and his brother called itLunaSaturni,which means Saturn’s moon in Latin. The sighting of Titan wasfollowed the discovery of other Saturn moons. Saturn VI is theofficially recognized mark for Titan even it was sighted first. Thisis done to avoid confusion with the other Saturn satellite bodies.Scientists were greatly interested in Titan and they dispatched anobject they named in Huygens’ honor. The object was sent to Titanon the NASA-Cassini operation. Titan is relatively flat in comparisonto Earth. Its highest mountains are only a few meters tall. There isno magnetic field on the moon unlike on other moons.
Ittook scientists very many years before they could not get a clearview of moon Titan from space. This was because of an orange hazethat surrounds the moon. It was until the Cassini spacecraft landedon Titan that scientists were able to have a clear view of the moon’ssurface. Titan has an atmosphere that is higher than the Earth’s,rising to about 370 miles. This is what made scientists believe it tobe the largest moon on the solar system until Ganymede was sighted in1980’s Voyager mission (Mitri et al, 2007). Titan has a complex andactive atmosphere. The atmosphere comprises of 95% nitrogen with theremaining 5% being methane. Organic molecules that have hydrogen andcarbon can also be found atmosphere. These are comparable to thecomponents of Earth’s atmosphere and they are necessaryrequirements for life.
Thereis something about the atmosphere that still remains a mystery. Themystery is about the source of the abundant presence of methane whichbreaks down when it comes into contact with sunlight. Scientiststhink there is a source that replaces the lost methane. Volcanicactivity is one of the ways that this can happen. However, there isno proof yet to show that volcanic activity takes place on the moon(Williams, 2008). The south pole of Titan has a high concentration ofmethane lakes. It is one of two planets on the solar system to haveliquid methane on its surface. Apart from having lakes and seas,there are also rivers and Titan receives rain like it happens onEarth. Titan has a hydrological cycle similar to the Earth’s. Thisclimatic pattern is not manifest in any other planet on the entireSolar System.
Titan’sexistence can be traced back to the formation of Solar System.Despite its long existence, there is limited geological advancementon its surface. Erosion has been taking place there as it is evidenceby the huge craters. The craters on Titan have larger rims than whatis found anywhere on the Solar System. There are fewer craters onTitan than on other icy moons. This is mainly caused by atmosphericyielding. Images of Titan’s surface show the presence of sand dunesresembling those found in the African desert of Namib. Most ofTitan’s surface is filled with such sandbanks. Clouds formed byrising methane gas dominate Titan’s atmosphere (Dyches, 2014). Theclouds occasionally shower Titan with methane rain. Titan’satmosphere is filled with clouds of cyanide gas and frozen methane.The similarity of Titan’s atmospheric process to those of the Earthcontinually amazes scientists, even though liquid water is notinvolved. Titan receives very dim sunlight. It receives just about 1%of the sunlight that reaches the Earth. The orange haze that runsaround the moon shields sunlight from reaching Titan. The quantity ofsunlight that reach titan determines its climatic conditions andmarks different seasons. Suggested have been made that an oceanexists under Titan’s surface. Confirmation of this suggestion isyet to be made.
TheCassini spacecraft is currently on a second mission. Its firstmission called Equinox was completed in June 2008. The mission took aperiod of four years and was aimed at orbiting planet Saturn. Themission was then extended with the current effort being expected tocontinue until 2017. The mission has achieved great results. Itproduced images of very high resolution, more than ever producedbefore. These results have made scientists become more interested inTitan. Crucial data about Titan has been gathered in both the primaryand extended missions by Cassini. The data gathered so far has helpedscientists understand more about the structure of Titan and itscomplex atmosphere. Scientists have used this data to conclude thatthere is an underground ocean on Titan containing ammonia and water(Stofan, 2007). Scientists are very keen on uncovering evidence ofvolcanic activity and seasonal climatic changes.
Goingby the conditions available on Titan, many believe that Titan couldindeed support life sometimes in the far future. Currently, thetemperatures are too low for any existence to survive on Titan.However, if temperature from the sun increases, in billions of yearsfrom today, temperature on Titan will rise to a level that will allowsome form of life to exist (Williams, 2008). If this condition willbe achieved, it will be close Earth’s circumstances. Plenty ofexperiments have been conducted which indicate that Titan could beeven more habitable than it was previously thought.
Previously,scientists believed that the atmosphere close to the surface of Titanwas dull and inactive. This has been proved not to be true.Biological chemistry on Earth is driven by light from the sun. Thesame light could be responsible for the same purpose on Titan (Mitri,2007). However, this will happen at a lesser degree because Titanreceives very little sunlight and it is extremely cold. Titan is notasleep as some people may think. It is just half awake and wouldprobably come to life if the conditions would be more conducive.
Sincethe success of the first Cassini mission, scientists have remainedattracted by what they found. There is a general attraction ofastronomical scientists to Titan. Their main aim is to establishwhether any form of life exist on the moon. If indeed there areliving things on the moon, they would be extremely different fromcreatures existing on Earth (Williams, 2008). The environment onTitan replicates the situation on prehistoric Earth, when livingthings did not exist. No oxygen is available on Titan, which iscompulsory for any life to exist. The temperatures on the surface arealso too low to support life. Any water available on the surface ishard as rock due to the low temperatures. The availability ofEarth-like surroundings is the main explanation why scientists areintrigued by Titan. No other planetary body apart from Earth wheresurface lakes of liquid can be found. Titan’s rich atmosphere andits Earth-like climate pattern make scientists believe it couldpossibly support some kind of life. Water as found on Earth is notavailable. It is found as rock hard blocks of ice. Instead of water,Titan has liquid methane which causes erosion on Titan’s surface.After evaporating, methane forms clouds which then shower Titan withrain.
TheCassini-Huygens mission lacked proper equipment to gather datarelating to the availability of complex organic compounds on moonTitan. Despite this, it still captured a part on Titan that had anatmosphere resembling what existed on prehistoric Earth. Except forthe lack of liquid water, the condition is similar in every otheraspect (Dyches, 2014). Scientists have conducted experiments whichimitate the conditions on Titan in a laboratory. Experimentsconducted in 2010 proved that the absence of water cannot hinder theexistence of amino acids and nucleotide bases. According to a NASAreport of 2013 it was possible for organic chemicals with a complexnature develop on Titan. This report was based of studies simulatedconditions of Titan’s atmosphere.
Scientistsbelieve that chemical reactions were the source of life on Earth.Plenty of experiments replicating Titan’s atmospheric circumstanceshave been conducted. Results from these experiments suggest thatthere is an abundance of organic components that could triggerchemical reactions at some point in time. Different theories havebeen floated regarding the water situation on Titan. One school ofthought believes there is liquid ammonia in Titan’s ground. Anotherschool of thought argues that the solution in Titan’s ground is amassive mixture of ammonia and water (Stofan, 2007). This mixture ismaintained in a crust of ice and show conditions that could possiblysupport life. Heat exchange must occur for life to exist in oceans.So it is believed that this happens in Titan for life to exist.
Itis further suggested in some studies that there could be livingorganisms in the methane lakes of Titan, just as living creatureslive in Earth’s water bodies. For the organisms to survive, theywould probably breathe-in hydrogen since oxygen is absent. Hydrogenis broken down by acetylene and not glucose. The organisms would thenexhale methane and not carbon dioxide. Creatures living on Earthrequire water as a solvent (Stofan, 2007). Creatures on Titan wouldmake use of methane or ethane although they are weaker as solventsthan water. The chemical reactivity of water also makes it able tobreak down huge organic molecules through a process calledhydrolysis. In 2005, Chris McKay argued that, if life actuallyexisted on Titan, it would be possible to measure its effects onTitan’s troposphere. As a result, the levels of hydrogen andacetylene would fall to below expectations. Darell Strobel of JohnsHopkins University identified a reduced presence of molecularhydrogen in the lower sections of Titan’s atmosphere than in theupper ones. This seemed to support what McKay had indicated earlier.Another research conducted around the same time indicated a reductionof hydrogen levels close to Titan’s ground. McKay thinks that thismeans there could be some organisms on the ground, which were makinguse of the hydrocarbons. However, he cautioned that this could not bethe only reason for the findings related to acetylene and hydrogen.He said that this situation resulted from some chemical or physicalprocesses that are yet to be discovered or the presence of defects inthe way materials are composed currently.
Althoughthere are strong indications that there could be life on Titan, thereare serious obstacles against this. Titan is a long way a way fromthe sun and there is no carbon dioxide in its atmosphere. Water thatis necessary for life is only available in the form of rock hard iceblocks. In view of the formidable obstacles, scientists are of theopinion that Titan may only be used for experimenting conditions onprimordial Earth and not as a place where life could exist. Inbillions years from today, the sun will be producing more heat. Thiswill cause all planets including Titan to become warmer. This is theonly time when conditions on Titan would be ale to support any kindof life. There would be enough temperature to make the frozen watermelt and be available to living organisms. The orange haze on Titanwould be gone as the sun reduces its ultraviolet output. As a result,the anti-greenhouse effect found on the surface will reduce. Thiswill let the greenhouse effect resulting from atmospheric methane tohave a more prominent role (Williams, 2008). The adjusted conditionswill create circumstances that will sustain living organisms longinto the future. New life can evolve in such a period of time.However, it would take place at a slower pace than on Earth becausethe ammonia will reduce the speed of chemical reactions occur.
Intrying to support the similarities to Earth’s atmosphericconditions, it is hypothesized that Titan may have been the result ofimpact of large steroids and comets on the Earth’s surface (Stofan,2007). This according to the hypothesis resulted in giant rocks ladenwith microbes to escape Earth’s gravity. There is some possibilitythat some of these parts could have come into contact with otherspace bodies including Titan. Despite this happening, the organismsin Titan’s lakes could have no chemical semblance with any livingthing on Earth for them to be related even in the most remote way.More evidence should be provided to support the existence of anycreatures on Titan’s lakes. Currently, there is a probe that isgoing which is expected to end in 2017. It is expected that thismission will provide more insights about moon Titan.
Insummary, scientists have developed a keen interest on Titan. Thediscoveries that have been made about it so far only add to thecuriosity. The current mission will provide even more details aboutthe moon. Going by the interests past missions have created, thiswill not be the last mission on titan. The presence of conditionssimilar to what is available on earth makes people believe theremight be life on Titan in the far future. Scientists are howeverskeptical of the presence of life on Titan because of the hugeobstacles. However, the conditions may be different billions of yearsfrom now. When the temperatures of the sun increase so as to reachTitan, there conditions may change and life would be a possibilitythen. This, however, is unlikely to come to pass soon as it willoccur after billions of years. The foremost intention of the ongoingmission is to find evidence of volcanic activity. This will solve thequestion of the source of liquid methane on the surface of the moon.
Dyches,Preston Clavin, Whitney (June 23, 2014). "Titan`sBuilding Blocks Might Pre-date Saturn" (Pressrelease). JetPropulsion Laboratory.RetrievedJune28, 2014.
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Stofan,E. R. Elachi, C. Lunine, J. I. Lorenz, R. D. Stiles, B.Mitchell, K. L. Ostro, S. Soderblom, L. et al. (2007)."Thelakes of Titan". Nature 445 (1):61–64. Bibcode:2007Natur.445…61S. doi:10.1038/nature05438.PMID 17203056.
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