The Most Earth-like Place

 
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The Most Earth-Like Place

When we talk about colonizing the solar system, the planet that always comes up is Mars, and for good reason. In some ways it’s the most Earth-like body in our solar system. But in others, there’s a different champion to be crowned.

Saturn’s moon Titan is easily one of the most intriguing places we’ve been able to study. Besides the absence of rings, it doesn’t look all that different from Saturn at a glance. It’s not until you peel back that cloud layer that you discover a truly amazing world.

True color image of the haze of Titan’s atmosphere, taken from the Cassini spacecraft.

True color image of the haze of Titan’s atmosphere, taken from the Cassini spacecraft.

Titan’s atmosphere is 45% denser than Earth’s at surface level. This is significant because no other moon in our solar system has much of an atmosphere at all, let alone one thicker than Earth. It’s also like earth in that it’s the only other nitrogen based atmosphere, though, after that, it’s composition is radically different. One fun side effect of the thick air is that aircraft would work exceptionally well there. A standard Cessna aircraft would get enough lift to fly at walking speed! (Lower gravity than the Moon also helps here.) It’s theorized that with a hang glider and over-sized flipper boots, a human could take off and fly through the air on their own power! (Don’t get too excited. It’s a little too cold. More on that later.)

Saturn’s largest moon is also the biggest source of hydrocarbons in the solar system, far greater than Earth. Methane, propane, and ethane have all been detected in the atmosphere as well as other more complex organic molecules. The atmosphere of Titan is a complex soup of chemistry, much of which we still don’t understand. And we’re not even done with how amazing the skies of Titan are.

False color image of the methane ice above Titan’s north pole, taken from the Cassini spacecraft.

False color image of the methane ice above Titan’s north pole, taken from the Cassini spacecraft.

Titan has clouds. The picture above shows clouds of ice methane at the north pole. Titan has what can actually be identified as weather. Further, these clouds rain hydrocarbons. These hydrocarbons form rivers, shallow lakes, and seas. This is the only other place in the universe we have ever observed these surface features besides Earth!

Taking all of these things into account, I knew that Titan would be important in the world of After Moses. Free hydrocarbons in the air makes it a perfect place to put refineries. Plastics, fuel, and more all come from Titan. But that doesn’t mean it would be a very fun place to live. Titan is far from the sun, and only 10% of the light it receives makes it to the surface. The surface is a very dark, cold place, with surface temperatures sitting at around -277F (-172C). So much for the human powered flight I mentioned earlier…

But people would probably rather live on the surface, so in After Moses, I showed the extreme measures taken to make that possible. Molten salt is often used as a heat transfer agent in industrial processes. With free fuel falling from the sky and collecting in lakes, it seemed quite reasonable to imagine a central heat plant melting salt and pumping it through the city to keep it warm.

A cheery place for vacation indeed. It’s no wonder Matthew didn’t want to stick around…

Special filters allow us to peer through the clouds and see the lakes beneath. Photo taken from the Cassini spacecraft.

Special filters allow us to peer through the clouds and see the lakes beneath. Photo taken from the Cassini spacecraft.

Mayda Insula in the bottom right. Photo taken from the Cassini spacecraft.

Mayda Insula in the bottom right. Photo taken from the Cassini spacecraft.

As a final bit of fun, I decided to place their port of call in a real location. Kraken Mare is the second largest known body of liquid on the surface of Titan. In After Moses, I translated it to Kraken Sea. The island that the Sparrow landed on is also a real place and is one of the only true islands we know of that’s not on our own Earth. Both the sea and the island can be seen in the pictures above.

Titan really is a fascinating place. Its skies are among the most complex and active in our solar system, and its surface is covered with lakes. In some ways, it’s more Earth-like than Mars. In other ways it’s even more alien. All of this should go to remind of us of our own shining jewel, the one place where we fragile humans can truly live. As a Christian I am thankful to the God that designed it. For as many amazing places as He has made, there really is no place quite like home.

 
Michael KaneComment