Fly Me to a Moon

Jon Foro on November 22, 2016

Beyond-Earth225These days, a lot of people are looking for a change of scenery. But how far are we willing to go for a little peace and quiet, some space to stretch our legs? A new beginning, as it were. Is Canada far enough?

Our next destination might be a little further out than you think. The moon's the closest but a little lacking in amenities, and let's face it, maybe a little too close. Mars? A little atmosphere (and water) never hurts and neither do the sweeping views, but what do we really know about the locals?

The good news: Charles Wohlforth and Amanda Hendrix have been thinking about it, too, and they might have found our next home- Titan. In Beyond Earth: Our Path to a New Home in the Planets, Wohlforth, an award-winning science writer, and Hendrix, a planetary scientist, make the case that Saturn's largest moon's relative proximity and  similarities to Earth make it our likeliest destination.

But what would life on Titan be like? Here the authors offer some tips for fitting into the new neighborhood.


10 Things to know about living on Titan
By Charles Wohlforth and Amanda Hendrix

Titan, a moon of Saturn, is more like our home planet than any other body in the solar system. Our book, Beyond Earth, considers what it would be like to live there. Here are some tips for planning your trip.

You can fly.
The nitrogen atmosphere on Titan has a surface pressure 50 percent greater than the Earth’s, but gravity is similar to our Moon. You could fly by strapping on wings and flapping around. Adding a simple thruster would make flying easy.

No pressure suit needed.
Thanks to the thick atmosphere, Titan residents wouldn’t need pressurized suits like the astronauts wore on the Moon. Warm clothing and a respirator would be enough.

No energy shortage. Ever.
Much of Titan’s surface is made of hydrocarbons. Precipitation from the atmosphere feeds lakes and seas of liquid methane, like liquid natural gas. A single lake holds more energy reserves than found on Earth.

Plenty of water.
Not far below the surface Titan has plenty of water ice. Titan residents could melt it to drink the water and split its elements to produce oxygen to breathe, or to help burn hydrocarbons for heat and power.

Dress warmly.
It’s cold on Titan, cold enough to keep methane liquid. Around -291°F, to be precise. Titan and Saturn orbit the Sun roughly nine times farther out than the Earth. A warm or heated suit would make the outdoors survivable.

Titan is much safer than Mars.
Space radiation bombards the surface of Mars and the Moon, potentially causing cancer and brain damage, but Titan’s atmosphere and Saturn’s magnetic field provide ample shielding.

You can start a yacht club.
Titan’s lakes and seas are suitable for boats. In fact, scientists have already designed autonomous buoys and submarines for research missions.

Ballooning is great, too.
Thanks to Titan’s thick atmosphere and distance from the sun, a hot air balloon can stay aloft for decades. The temperature changes little, allowing a balloon to maintain its inflation, and the lack of UV radiation keeps fabric fresh.

Landforms are familiar.
The lakes and shorelines of Titan look like ours on Earth. The Huygens lander took pictures of an area that looked like a streambed. And the dunes of hydrocarbons are a lot like Earth’s desert sand dunes.

Patience required.
We won’t be able to get humans to Titan until a new, faster propulsion system is invented. Using today’s technology, the trip takes seven years.

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