Year: 2018-19

Daria Cristina Bugeac

School: “Elena Vacarescu” School

City: Bucharest

Does life outside Earth exist? In an attempt to respond to this question, scientists started to explore the Solar System and found that three celestial bodies: Enceladus, Titan and Europa, might possess appropriate conditions. In contrast to Enceladus and Europe, which have a solid surface, being covered by a thick layer of ice, on Titan, besides rock and ice, there are also lakes (or seas), which makes Titan the only body in the Solar System on which surface liquid has been proven to exist. However, these lakes and seas do not contain water, but are filled with liquid methane and ethane.

Titan is Saturn’s biggest satellite and the second biggest one in our Solar System. Its diameter is 1.5 times the diameter of the Earth’s Moon. This satellite was discovered in 1655, by the Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens.

Between 2004 and 2017, the Cassini mission explored Saturn’s moons. A very important part of it was the launch of the Huygens probe, which reached Titan’s surface on January 14th, 2005. The images sent by the probe when descending through Titan’s atmosphere and after landing, confirmed that Titan has mountains - not very high (maximum 150 m), dunes – made of ice particles (not sand), big lakes (or seas) and formations that look like river beds.

On Titan the atmosphere is 4 times denser than on Earth and contains 98.4% nitrogen, 1.4% methane and 0.2% hydrogen. The temperature on Titan is very low, about -179 degrees Celsius.

NASA scientists are considering launching the “Dragonfly” mission in 2020, that is sending to Titan a spacecraft that will contain a drone. Due to its mobility, it should collect information about the surface composition at various locations, as well as information about its meteorology.

Another plan to explore Titan, a more remote one (to be carried out in 2040), explores the possibility of sending a spacecraft which will transport a submarine that will explore Titans’ seas.

As the lakes on Titan’s surface contain substances that might be used as fuel, we can only hope that in the future scientists will find a way to allow spacecrafts to refuel before returning from their mission.

I think that if we continue to explore Titan we might discover something that scientists have been dreaming of for so long: life outside Earth. Such a life form would probably be a primitive one and completely different from the ones on Earth, and hopefully will explain the way life was born on our planet. In my opinion, such a discovery would make Titan a possible destination for the first human colonists of an alien world.

Solar System News