Permanent Human Settlement of the Earth, Space and Ocean Frontiers

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Weird Planet

When we began to robotically explore our Solar System – we had no idea what was in store for us. For example – we discovered quickly that every airless planet does not necessarily have to look like our moon. They are all NOT cratered and pitted and generally blasted by eons of meteor bombardment like our nearest terrestrial body.

I could tell about a lot of weird planets, but few as strange as the planet (currently mis-named a mere ‘moon’) in orbit within the Saturnian system. Its name is Titan.

Titan is the largest so-called moon in the solar system. It is significantly larger than the Pluto-Charon system and larger even than the planet Mercury. It also has a significant atmosphere – the closest in atmospheric density than any other to our own.

But that’s where the similarities to earth cease altogether. Titan is a strange place – mostly clouded with a orange tinted organic-soup, a thick atmosphere with a pressure 1.6 times that at our sea level – or equivalent to a pressure at 21 feet beneath the earth’s oceans. The Titan atmosphere is primordial – methane, nitrogen and a smattering of other gasses. And Titan is cold – its temperature never rises above -290 degrees F. That means with an atmosphere full of methane gas at that specific temperature range – it rains liquid methane form the sky.

Indeed, it rains so much methane that it has created whole bays and perhaps even small oceans of methane. As our Hyugens probe made its descent though Titan’s atmosphere – it clearly showed river channels cut by liquid methane in its alien landscape. Shown here is the photograph the probe sent back to earth over 900 million miles of space last year – the Titan landscape in true color. For more on Titan and Huygens, click here.

Images courtesy ESA and NASA.