The search for life elsewhere has long focused on what we are most familiar with on Earth – in other words, “life as we know it,” or organisms which are carbon-based and require water to survive. However, a growing number of scientists are now thinking that alternative forms of life are possible, ones which have never been seen on Earth, but could flourish in other types of alien environments. A new study from Cornell University addresses this very question, demonstrating a form of microscopic life which would be possible on Saturn’s largest moon Titan.
Who wouldn’t want to go explore an alien sea? It seems that NASA would certainly like to, and the agency has unveiled a new submarine design to hopefully do just that one day. The submarine would be sent to Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, to dive into one of the large liquid methane seas on the moon’s frigid surface; such a mission idea may sound like science fiction, but it’s not, and would be the first ever to explore a sea on another world which is both Earth-like in some ways, yet utterly alien in others.
Saturn’s largest moon Titan is a fascinating world, uniquely alien yet eerily Earth-like in many ways, with its rain, rivers, lakes, seas, and massive sand dunes. But in this extremely cold environment, it is liquid methane and ethane which act as “water,” mimicking the hydrological cycle on Earth. Also, due to the perpetual and global hazy cloud cover, the only way to see these features from orbit is by using radar, which is what the Cassini spacecraft has done on a regular basis for quite a few years now. As good as they are, though, the radar images contain electronic noise, which reduces sharpness and clarity. But now a new technique is letting planetary scientists see Titan’s surface more clearly than ever before.
The Cassini spacecraft has taken thousands of images of Saturn and its moons, and this one is another beauty. Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, and the one with the methane rain, rivers and lakes, floats in space out beyond Saturn’s rings.
This is a beautiful montage showing sunlight reflecting off lakes on two different worlds. A water lake (of course) on Earth and a methane lake on Saturn’s moon Titan. While the composition is quite different, the hydrological and methanological processes are remarkably similar, with rain, rivers, lakes and seas. Familiar but alien at the same time… Thanks to Planetary Landscapes for use of this image!
Apart from being composed of liquid methane instead of water, the rivers, lakes and seas of Saturn’s moon Titan are amazingly similar in appearance to those on Earth. The hydrological cycle is also very similar, with Titanian rain replenishing them.
Want to go river rafting on Titan? The largest moon of Saturn is the only other place in the solar system known to have rivers, lakes and seas on its surface. Appearance-wise, they are eerily similar to their earthly counterparts, but are composed of liquid methane instead of water, in Titan’s extremely cold environment. Now, the Cassini spacecraft has found the largest Titanian river system yet, similar to the Nile River on Earth, as announced on December 12, 2012.
With its methane lakes, rivers and rain, Titan is already one of the most fascinating worlds in our solar system, with intriguing parallels to Earth despite the much colder climate.
Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, is in many ways one of the most Earth-like places in the solar system. More like a planet than most moons, it is the only other world, so far anyway, known to have lakes on its surface. Similar to the hydrological cycle on Earth, the lakes are filled by rain, which also creates rivers and streams. Titan, however, is much colder than Earth, so the liquid is methane / ethane, not water.
This discovery has made Titan one of the most fascinating destinations for further exploration. The Cassini spacecraft has increased our knowledge many-fold, but there is only so much that can be done from orbit. But now a new mission proposal may change that, one which would actually send a boat to land in one of the lakes in the northern hemisphere.
See Examiner.com for the full article.