Saturn’s Moon Titan Might Be a
Landing Site for Humans from Earth
by Sandy Flores Ruiz, age 15
One of the most common questions scientists are asked is will we ever be able to live on a planet other than Earth?
This question remains unanswered, but scientists have identified planets humans could possibly live on. Although they have yet to figure out all the factors that humans would need to survive on another planet, scientists have taken a new approach for evaluating the type of planet that would be survivable for humans.
Titan, one of Saturn’s moons, could possibly be our next home. It might sound crazy; it’s hard to imagine that humans could live any other place than Earth. Temperatures on Titan can reach almost 300 degrees below zero and methane and ethane rain from the sky before flowing into hydrocarbon seas. Titan might be the only orbital system in our solar system (other than Earth) where we would be able to build a permanent, self-sufficient human settlement.
Scientists arrived at this conclusion by considering the ecological effects and the habitat humans would need for survival and evaluating which planet in our solar system met those criteria.
Most researchers have considered Mars or the Moon as ideal locations for human settlement. The advantages of these destinations are their proximity to Earth and other practical requirements needed for colonization.
The inner solar system's two largest bodies, Mercury and Venus, lack that second characteristic. It would be extremely difficult for humans to survive on Mercury given the extreme temperature conditions and other physical conditions associated with being so close to the sun. A runaway greenhouse effect has made the atmosphere on Venus poisonous, crushingly heavy, and extremely hot.
The Moon and Mars may seem like reasonable destinations, but both have substantial problems. They lack magnetospheres (the region around a planet dominated by the planet’s magnetic field) and atmospheres (envelope of gasses surrounding the earth).
Humans cannot survive long-term under the assault of GCRs, which are energetic particles from distant supernovae. The potentially cancer-causing effects of this powerful radiation are well known, but their full extent remains a mystery. However, there is a more serious hazard to consider, brain damage. GCRs cause brain tissue to die due to particles like iron nuclei traveling at near-light speeds. We would have to build homes underground in order to avoid this radiation, which is not easily done.
Titan is the only other body in our solar system on which humans could possibly live in the future. It’s the only possible destination that works similar to Earth and is the only body that has liquid on or near its surface. Titan has a thick atmosphere, stronger than Earth, that would protect us from radiation.
Some scientists are concerned about the low temperatures on Titan, but the atmosphere there means humans would not have to wear pressure suits. The environment of Titan would allow human settlers to wear common clothing we currently use during a winter on Earth.
[Sources: Scientific American; NASA; Livescience]