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Saturn's largest moon Titan is by far the strangest place in the solar system: An unimaginably frigid world with a thick, opaque atmosphere where the clouds rain liquid natural gas, the "rocks" and mountains are composed of water-ice as hard as granite, and rivers of hydrocarbons run to organic chemical seas.  It is a world with eerie similarities to the processes that shape Earth, and yet is so far outside our frame of reference in temperature and bizarre chemistry that even visiting it with robotic probes presents unique technological challenges.  But most importantly, while Titan may someday become a human world, the most fascinating thing of all about the Orange Moon of Mystery is what may already live there.

The progress of our adventure so far (current in bold):

1.  The Sun
2.  Mercury
3.  Venus
4.  Earth (Vol. 1)
5.  Earth (Vol. 2)
6.  Earth (Vol. 3)
7.  Earth (Vol. 4)
8.  Earth (Vol. 5)
9.  Earth (Vol. 6)
10.  Luna
11.  Mars (Vol. 1)
12.  Mars (Vol. 2)
13.  Mars (Vol. 3)
14.  Phobos & Deimos
15.  Asteroids (Vol. 1)
16.  Asteroids (Vol. 2)
17.  Asteroids (Vol. 3)
18.  Ceres
19.  Jupiter (Vol. 1)
20.  Jupiter (Vol. 2)
21.  Io
22.  Europa (Vol. 1)
23.  Europa (Vol. 2)
24.  Ganymede
25.  Callisto
26.  Saturn (Vol. 1)
27.  Saturn (Vol. 2)
28.  Saturn (Vol. 3)
29.  Rings of Saturn
30.  Mimas
31.  Enceladus
32.  Tethys
33.  Dione
34.  Rhea
35.  Titan (Vol. 1)
36.  Titan (Vol. 2)
37.  Titan (Vol. 3)
38.  Iapetus
39.  Minor Moons of Saturn
40.  Uranus
41.  Miranda
42.  Ariel
43.  Umbriel
44.  Titania
45.  Oberon
46.  Neptune
47.  Triton
48.  The Kuiper Belt & Scattered Disk
49.  Comets
50.  The Interstellar Neighborhood
51.  Updates
52.  Overview: Human Destiny Among the Worlds of Sol
53.  Test Your Knowledge
Titan in true color, as we would see it from nearby:

Titan

I.  Context

Titan is Saturn's 21st moon from the planet, and its sixth of seven major moons.  The size of its orbit around Saturn is over three times the average size of the Earth-Moon system, and yet is still somewhat deeper in the planet's gravity well than Luna is in Earth's - but considerably shallower than the major moons of Jupiter.  Orbital and gravity well diagrams:

TitanOrbitalDiagram1

TitanGravityWellComparison

Contextual views:

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You probably can't see either the Sun or Saturn from Titan's surface, barring rare atmospheric events where the obscuring hazes become relatively clear, so you definitely can't see things like the stars and other planets either.  Sunlight probably diffuses throughout the daylit sky, much like people experience on Earth in especially hazy or smoggy weather: You can't see the Sun, but it illuminates the entire sky.  On Titan it would be a gloomy orange soup rather than the blinding white we get on Earth, but still illuminated well enough to see the ground.  Sadly, this means the illustrations you may have seen showing Saturn in the Titanian sky are purely fanciful.  The rule is: If you can't see the ground from space, you can't see things in space from the ground.  At least not in visible light.

But if you could see Saturn from Titan, it would cover 5.5° of arc across the sky, or about 11 times larger than the full Moon from Earth.  This is a little smaller than Jupiter as seen from Ganymede, and a little bigger than Jupiter from Callisto.  So that's another reality that artwork usually fudges - if you were on Titan and could see Saturn through the haze, it would be substantial, but not gargantuan like it's usually depicted.  Its apparent size would be like this crude illustration:

Imagining Saturn in Titan's Sky

But once again, you can't see it.  Although maybe some day in the distant future, Saturn and other moons of the system may be visible through an artificially altered sky on Titan.

---

II.  History

When forming theories about the history of a rich and varied satellite system like Saturn's, scientists don't just study each individual moon in isolation: They look at everything together, and try to create models that evolve to produce a system like the one we see today.  So in trying to understand what produced Titan, three features of the system in general stand out: First, which you can see in the orbital diagram above, is that five of the seven major moons are tightly packed in a relatively small region not much bigger than the Earth-Moon system that is suddenly interrupted by a huge gap before Titan.  Second is Titan's relatively high eccentricity compared to these inner moons.  And third is the outermost major moon, Iapetus, whose orbit is significantly inclined from Saturn's equator.

An ordinary, uninterrupted process of accretion should have produced a handful of large moons, much like the Galilean moons of Jupiter, with nothing else in the system but small asteroidal objects and debris.  But instead what we see is one gigantic moon, two mid-sized moons (Rhea and Iapetus), and a steadily-graded group of smaller ones in a compact region.  In other words, the Saturn system is an embarrassment of riches that requires some further tinkering to explain, and whatever explains it bears directly on why Titan is so huge, so lonely in both location and properties, and why its orbit is unusually elliptical.

One model being advanced holds that the system originally was Jovian-like, with a small number of large ice moons bigger than Rhea but smaller than Titan.  At some point the system experiences some destabilizing influence - possibly due to the migration of Uranus or Neptune in the early solar system - that perturbs the orbits of the large satellites.  What follows is a sequence of huge collisions that merge most of their mass into Titan while the remainder accretes as fragments into smaller moons.  

One would think this is highly relevant to discussions of these other moons, but I've only just now seen this theory in reference to Titan, so the pitiful state of cross-referencing in the available information is part of what hopefully makes this series useful.  If the model is correct, then everything stated earlier about the formation of the smaller moons is still also correct, but an intermediate step would have to be introduced between formation of the Saturn system and accretion of those moons - one where they are fragments of larger moons that merged to form Titan.  Such a dramatic origin for this mysterious world would explain both its own and Iapetus' odd orbital characteristics, and the drastic discontinuity in mass and location between itself and its closest neighbors.  

Here's one possible simulation of the model, which progresses just far enough to see the smaller moons accrete from the arc of debris:

What the model shows is a glancing blow by two large moons, which then collide a second time with the smaller moon being stretched out into an arc of material that subsequently divides into multiple arcs and objects.  Some screencaps showing this:

Debris Arc Simulation 1

Debris Arc Simulation 2

Debris Arc Simulation 3

Debris Arc Simulation 4

Debris Arc Simulation 5

As you can see from the timecode in the upper left, the entire process would have unfolded over only a few Earth days.  If this is what happened, then much like Earth and its Moon, Titan owes its unique character to a cataclysm.  Had the original moons continued as the model envisions them, they would not likely have had the dense atmosphere, hydrological cycle, and complex chemistry Titan does.  Which brings us to the subject of how Titan itself specifically formed, whether under this giant impact model or more traditional assumptions.  Why does a moon roughly the same size and mass as Jupiter's moon Ganymede have a thick atmosphere while Ganymede has none?  The answer is like in real estate: Location, location, location.

The terrestrial planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars) are so close to the Sun that almost every common gas other than CO2 can't survive or stick around very long, and even that only persists because carbon-oxygen double bonds are incredibly strong and the CO2 molecule is relatively heavy.  Most of the rest are broken down by the UV in sunlight into simpler gases (a process called photolysis), and then blown away into space by the Sun.  This includes water, by the way: The vast majority of water that existed in the primordial nebula in this location was never captured by the terrestrial planets because it was too hot - most of it was blown outward.  

In fact, the only reason our world has an atmosphere and appreciable surface water is volcanic venting of nitrogen and water trapped in bubbles in rocks called clathrates.  If Earth were geologically dead, our location in the solar system guarantees that our water would be broken down, the hydrogen blown away into space (along with the nitrogen that makes up most of the atmosphere), and the oxygen would mostly end up as CO2 and, to a lesser extent, sulfur dioxide (SO2).  Basically like Venus, but at a lower temperature.  So our region of the solar system is a desert that from the beginning doesn't have a lot of water by proportion, and exists in a solar environment too intense for anything other than strongly-bonded oxide atmospheres to persist unless replenished by volcanism and/or biology.

The Jovian system, on the other hand, formed with a lot more water than the terrestrial region because it was at a lower temperature and didn't just blow away, so the Galilean moons of Jupiter (other than Io) have their characteristic ice shells.  But that region of the solar system is kind of in a thermal valley where atmospheres around large moons don't happen because (a)it's cold enough that CO2 and SO2 would freeze to the surface as solids even if they were present in large proportions (which they aren't, except on Io), (b)cold enough that the water ice doesn't release vapor fast enough to form a gaseous H2O atmosphere that would persist under prevailing solar conditions before being blown away, and (c)still too hot to hold on to lighter gases like nitrogen or methane.  So if Jupiter were somewhat closer to the Sun, Io could have an SO2 atmosphere and Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto could have water vapor atmospheres, but where they actually are is inconvenient for any significant atmosphere to persist around objects with their mass.

Saturn, on the other hand, formed in a region of the solar system where temperatures were optimum for both the formation of water and the retention of an atmosphere around a large moon.  Although Jupiter's major moons have a greater absolute quantity of water because of the higher density of the cloud that formed that system, the moons of Saturn have the highest concentrations of water by proportion.  This is because prevailing temperatures resulted in more of the hydrogen ending up in H2O and, to a lesser extent, methane (CH4) and ammonia (NH3) rather than being blown away as simple H2, but conditions were also warm enough that the oxygen needed to form this much water wasn't diverted into a lot of carbon monoxide (CO) like we see in more distant parts of the solar system.  

So Titan was cold enough to have a lot of water, methane, and ammonia, but also ideal in the other direction: Warm enough that all three could occur to varying degrees as gases, liquids, and solids, with ammonia and water being overwhelmingly solid and methane being gas and liquid.  If it were farther out in the solar system, all three would be frozen to the surface and you'd just have another airless moon; and if it were closer, it would be like Ganymede, without much methane or ammonia (as far as we know).  

But if the process of forming Titan's atmosphere had stopped there, it would only be a fraction as thick and composed mainly of methane and other hydrocarbons rather than the dense nitrogen atmosphere we see.  So, like in forming Earth's atmosphere, geology must have played a significant role: Frozen ammonia was heated by cryovolcanism (what happens when ice surfaces are heated up enough to become liquid in some places) and vented NH3 into the atmosphere, where it would be broken down by sunlight into its constituent elements, hydrogen and nitrogen.  

Meanwhile, the methane in the atmosphere is also being broken down into carbon and hydrogen, so this is where all that interesting chemistry in Titan's atmosphere takes place: The carbon and hydrogen recombine into any number of complex (one might even say, "prebiotic") molecules, while the nitrogen bonds with itself into inert N2 that's much more likely to stick around Titan than around Earth because of far lower temperatures, despite the latter's higher gravity.  Thus Titan has a thick atmosphere overwhelmingly dominated by N2 with only a small minority component of methane, and is not only at higher pressure than Earth's, but actually has more total mass.  But that raises a final question whose potential implications are staggering: If the methane is constantly being broken down, why is it still there?  While there are probably simple chemical explanations, one significant possibility is that biology is replenishing the atmospheric methane.

So like Earth, a number of Goldilocks circumstances and a potential serendipitous cataclysm combined to make Titan possible and produce the exotic conditions we see today.  Below is a rough illustration showing the general principle, which I should stress is based on my best amateur understanding of the subject, and is not the output of an expert:

Solar System Chemical & Phase Regions

---

III.  Properties

1.  Orbital and Rotational Features

The Titanian month is about 16 Earth days, and its day is the same because it's tidally locked to Saturn, rotating only once relative to the Sun for every complete orbit of the planet.  However, because of Titan's thick atmosphere, the long days and nights (8 Earth days or so each) are not thermally important on the surface, with only 1-2 K swings in temperature.  Unlike other moons of the system, it shows no significant differences in appearance between the leading and trailing hemispheres - the sides facing toward or away from its direction of orbit - because the absorbed materials and different impact rates responsible for these differences on other moons are distributed or eroded by the atmosphere.

Titan's orbit is the most eccentric of the seven major moons, which is part of what motivated the impact hypothesis for its formation, and may contribute some tidal heating to its interior - possibly enough to maintain an internal liquid water layer.  However, the eccentricity is still low in absolute terms, and doesn't even approach the kind of elliptical orbits seen among irregular moons, with the size of the orbit varying by only about 5.6% between near and far points from Saturn.  This is a lot bigger than you tend to see in a large gas giant moon, but it also occurs in a relatively shallow region of the planetary gravity well, so the tidal consequences should be far less significant than for the eccentricities of Galilean moons.  Which is a bit of a shame if it proves out, because with greater tidal heating it could sustain liquid water closer to the surface, possibly enough to interact significantly with the organic chemistry of the atmosphere.

Titan's orbit is within Saturn's main radiation belt - a region where the planet's magnetosphere traps energetic particles coming in from the Sun and the rest of the universe (i.e., cosmic rays).  While the surface is completely protected by the soupy atmosphere, the space around Titan presents radiation challenges similar to Earth's Van Allen Belts - hazardous regions that spacecraft headed beyond Earth orbit have to survive on their way out, and would have to survive again on their way back if they're returning.  

Space hardening of electronics is more than good enough at this point to deal with Titan's environs - it's nowhere near as bad as being around Europa or Io - but would still be an issue for human transport, particularly because the radiation belt is a lot bigger in size than the Van Allen belts and thus takes longer to cross.  Illustrations:

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This may prove significant to how humans some day explore and potentially colonize Titan, since you wouldn't want people hanging out in orbit around it where the full brunt of the radiation would be experienced.  In other words, the staging area for Titan surface operations would have to be outside the radiation belt, so that increases the likelihood that another moon, such as Rhea or Hyperion, might be utilized.  That said, the radiation belts are not homogeneous around a given orbit, and Saturn's magnetic field rotates dozens of times faster than Titan's orbital period, so the radiation environment isn't constant - both higher and lower radiation conditions are constantly sweeping past it like weather.  So I would assume you could exploit the timing of the field's rotation to enter and exit Titan's atmosphere at times of lower radiation, although it would still be a big problem.  I'll discuss this more in Vol. 3.  

The radiation belt also has some significant effects on Titan itself: It accelerates the chemical dynamism in the atmosphere over and above what ambient radiation would cause if it were just floating in space by itself rather than being a gas giant moon.  Instead, it's like it exists in front of a firehose spraying it with energetic particles at varying intensities.

One interesting possibility for Titan concerns eclipses: Although you probably can't see the Sun or Saturn through the atmosphere from its surface, you might be able to vaguely see both during a solar eclipse when the arc of the planet is illuminated.  During such times, Titan's atmosphere and the side of Saturn facing it would be in shadow, and yet the limb of Saturn and the ring plane would be back-lit with far more intensity than they ever are under other conditions, so you might be able to see a dim, glowing outline through the haze.

Because Titan is so big, it can often be seen in association with other moons of the system despite being far away from most of them, making possible some amazing - and often proportionally deceptive - imagery:

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Some of the most amazing views of Titan from space are in phase, particularly crescent, which gives the best opportunity to see its atmosphere from a distance due to the angle of sunlight:

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2.  Size and Mass Characteristics

The mass of Titan is about 2.3% that of Earth, and about 83% greater than the Moon.  It's considerably denser than all the major moons of both Saturn and Uranus, and is on par with Callisto, but isn't even in the same league as the other Galilean moons or bodies inward of Jupiter.  Based on the density and volume, we know that its mass is about equally divided between rock and water ice.  With such high mass for a moon and moderate density, Titan's surface gravity is substantial at 14% of Earth's - over five times the next highest gravity on a moon of Saturn (Rhea's), and only a couple of percentage points lower than on the Moon.  

Lunar-class surface gravity coupled with a thick atmosphere makes it theoretically possible for humans to fly like birds on Titan with the aid of wingsuits, but of course that's if you ignore the weight and volume of insulation and heating apparatus that would be needed to avoid freezing solid almost instantaneously.  On the other hand, that's only if you do it outside, at ambient temperatures: People could fly around in large, pressurized enclosures at higher temperature but with the same pressure - a sort of human aviary.  More on that in Vol. 3.  

So the result is that even with its roughly lunar gravity, you probably wouldn't see Apollo-style moonwalks in spacesuits: It's just too cold for walkable spacesuits to be practical, and being in a thermally extreme atmosphere is much worse for temperature control than being in vacuum at the same temperatures.  But you would see the same kind of goofy, semi-buoyant moonwalking by unsuited people inside their habitats.  I would guess that tiptoeing would be the most natural, comfortable, and efficient way of walking in 0.14 g, and it might be easier to go on all fours or use handholds on walls if you need speed rather than trying to run.  Which has interesting implications for the kind of footwear people would use on such a world, but that's a tangent for another time.

Titan's diameter is about 2/5 (40%) that of Earth, and 48% larger than the Moon - big enough that its cross-section would cover the entire continental United States and Mexico, and much of Canada (see illustration below).  Its total surface area would cover 56% of the land area of Earth, although going by its own land area the ratio would fluctuate because Titan's methane seas and lakes drastically change in size seasonally - and we haven't been observing it long enough to know just how drastically.  In any case, even its unarguably "dry" surface is larger in area than any continent on Earth: Twice the size of Asia, twice the size of Africa, and three times the size of North America.  In fact, North America, South America, Antarctica, Europe, and Australia combined don't even come close.  If the Indian Ocean were one solid continent, even that wouldn't equal the area of Titan's surface.  Cross-section compared to continental US:

Size Comparison USA Map

It is the second largest moon in the solar system after Ganymede, which only beats it by 2.3%, and is in fact 6% larger than Mercury (though far less massive).  In other words, even after the exclusion of Pluto from the ranks of solar system planets, if Titan were a free object independently orbiting the Sun, it would only be the second smallest planet.  Some rough size comparisons - mouse over the image to see the title if you don't recognize something:

TitanMercuryComp

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---

That's it for now, but I'm planning for Volume 2 to cover internal structure and surface features, then Volume 3 would cover the atmosphere and hydrosphere, potential for life, human relevance, and physical future.

Originally posted to Troubadour on Sat Jun 01, 2013 at 04:51 AM PDT.

Also republished by SciTech and Astro Kos.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Love these diaries! (5+ / 0-)

    What a gorgeous moon.

    For your amusement, Al Stewart, Vonnegut, and wonderful video:

    •  That's fun. Thanks. (4+ / 0-)

      Process defines product.

      by Troubadour on Sat Jun 01, 2013 at 05:43:32 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Sirens of Titan (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Troubadour, palantir

        I can't remember which sci fi deals with visits to Titan, spaceship parts, mining Titan, using its resources in various ways, but in general I think its taken for granted that right after establishing bases on the Moon and Mars and assuming Climate Change hasn't killed us off by then, Titan is next on the list

        Live Free or Die --- Investigate, Incarcerate

        by rktect on Sat Jun 01, 2013 at 06:49:52 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  A lot of SF lit deals with Titan. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          palantir

          My own conclusions that I've talked about in this series are that it's probably not immediately after the Moon and Mars.  The Saturn system is very far away and very cold.  Fusion energy is probably a prerequisite, whereas solar is good enough for the Moon, Mars, and asteroids.  Jupiter's moons are a borderline case, so we'll definitely go there before we go to Titan.

          Process defines product.

          by Troubadour on Sat Jun 01, 2013 at 07:04:35 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Titan (and Saturn) are made of fuel (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Troubadour

            Bring an extra tank of cryogenic slush oxygen and you have the makings of a double-duty heat (and power) plant and water factory fed by native hydrocarbons.  Plants crack CO2 and turn it into not just oxygen, not just food, but a wide variety of useful things.  The more I think about it, the more farming in the sky sounds like a really good way to minimize dependence on Earth: biomass as feedstocks for bioplastics, carbon fiber, organic electronics (semiconducting dyes printed on plastic film), and even old-fashioned textiles. It also dictates a choice of locations rich in "volatiles" (hydrogen, carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, etc.) - like Titan - that can be converted into biomass ... rather than metals and rare earths to be converted into machinery.

            If you're going to lug a nuclear reactor all the way to Titan, you might find that it has far more value as a source of heat than as a source of power.  If your tertiary (second non-radioactive) coolant loop exhausts the waste heat into the habitat's atmosphere, I think that would do a lot to both stave off the cold as well as perhaps reduce the size, complexity, and appetite of the reactor itself.

            •  Bringing oxidizer halfway across the solar system (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Visceral

              to the most water-heavy place in the solar system by proportion would not make any sense, nor would it be sustainable even if you did it successfully - you'd create a fixed amount of fuel whose energy value would be lower than what you put into creating the oxidizer, and you'd simply run out and freeze to death.  

              Saturn mainly provides materials for a fusion reactor (deuterium and helium) whose energy profit would have to be fed into splitting abundant water resources for the oxidizer with which to utilize the hydrocarbons around Titan.  Because you don't have the Sun feeding abundant energy into the system like on Earth, you have to feed it in artificially.  Fusion energy is the only way to do that.  Anything else is thermodynamically dubious.  

              Process defines product.

              by Troubadour on Sat Jun 01, 2013 at 09:07:57 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  I try not to assume fusion, interplanetary trade (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                Troubadour

                If Titan has lots of oxygen in water ice alongside all its hydrocarbons and nitrogen, then yes, there's absolutely no reason to bring oxygen from Earth.  It would be awesome if a colony could be designed to be an open system constantly taking in fresh resources from outside since it would have a much easier time both sustaining itself and more importantly growing.  In an environment blessed with resources, inefficiency can be a good thing if it means that your system can be that much simpler and faster-growing.

                I try not to assume the availability of fusion power, if only because a fusion reactor is a guarantee for terminal dependence on Earth - not necessarily for fuel - but for parts.  A colony dependent on trade in my view is weaker for it; something that's always in danger of becoming a glorified mining camp or company town, or worse: a white elephant producing nothing of value in exchange for energy and resource-intensive materials and equipment from Earth.  Such a colony could always get its plug pulled if governments change or some cheaper alternative is found: just like countless mining, logging, or mill towns right here on Earth.

                •  I think we're operating on different assumptions. (2+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  Visceral, lehman scott

                  First, I don't foresee direct colonization of Titan from Earth - the required leap in capabilities is too great - so dependence on Earth isn't even an issue from how I think Titan would be developed.  What I think would happen is that subsequent generations of people born on Mars, asteroid colonies, and moons of Jupiter would develop the Saturn system.  

                  In other words, we're talking about 500, 600, 700 years from now, with fully independent economies existing off Earth.  What that means is that the technology to bring factors of production with you to new parts of the solar system is already many generations old.  Granted, the early period would still be economically dependent on points inward for advanced equipment, but transitioning to independence would be a known skillset by then.  And you need fusion to settle anything farther out than Jupiter.  

                  It's not a matter of being optimistic - it's just acknowledging that either we get fusion power or we can't go any farther than Jupiter except for transient exploration (which could be done with fission).  But building civilizations out there would require fusion.  There's just no other way to exist and grow in a region that's that cold, let alone farther out.  All the resource materials in the world are useless without the energy to access them.

                  Process defines product.

                  by Troubadour on Sat Jun 01, 2013 at 10:16:11 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  I'm definitely trying to jump the gun (2+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    lehman scott, Troubadour

                    It's idle brainstorming more than anything else.  You're definitely right that expanding into space is going to be a painfully long and slow process.  I'm just emotionally compelled to look at the mountain of technological and infrastructural prerequisites and to try to challenge them as far as my limited knowledge allows.

                    I'm not an engineer, so I can't explore these ideas as far as I'd need to to really test them, even if only on paper.  But what's key to me is the idea that there is some lazy, smartass solution out there that either bypasses critical technological and economic obstacles completely or allows less energy and resource-intensive approaches.  Flow around the boulder like water in a stream to be glib about it.  If technology is the weak point, then there's something to be said for trying to work around it - like that sadly apocryphal story about Russians using pencils.

                    I like to think that space will happen sooner if we are open minded about low-tech and low-energy solutions that can be implemented quickly, cheaply, and on a large scale precisely because they don't require a big leap like fusion power or a new propulsion system, or for a whole lot of offworld industrial and commercial infrastructure to exist beforehand.  Or at least that the big leap is one that opens up whole new avenues of thought, whose new piles of problems might be easier to solve than the ones we've been trying to solve for generations to little success.  It's the same approach I try to take to our many earthbound dilemmas.

                    Hey, maybe I'm the optimist?  Never thought I'd see the day.

                    •  The way engineers tackle big challenges (1+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:
                      Troubadour

                      is by breaking them down into a number of smaller problems. In the context of developing Titan as a resource and eventually being able to think beyond the moon and Mars, you are right to imagine this taking quite a long while.

                      I propose that the first challenge to our getting into space is to buy some time by dealing with climate change, Peak Oil, species extinctions, overpopulation, pollution, and war.

                      We have a very short period of time to get those things done.

                      Live Free or Die --- Investigate, Incarcerate

                      by rktect on Sat Jun 01, 2013 at 03:07:15 PM PDT

                      [ Parent ]

                      •  Robinson draws a plausible scenario (2+ / 0-)
                        Recommended by:
                        rktect, Troubadour

                        for colonization of Titan in "Blue Mars":

                        1. Colonization and terraforming of Mars.
                        2. Fusion for power and interplanetary propulsion, major progress in engineered materials and robotics.
                        3. Overpopulation and strife on Earth.
                        4. Resistance to new immigration by original Mars colonists.
                        5. Migration of Earth's "surplus" population to the asteroids and the outer system moons.
                        6. Interplanetary trade (Mars needs nitrogen and water. Titan needs alliances with other economies to stay independent from Earth).

                        KSR is a good writer because he remembers that colonists need a motive to leave home, as well as a destination with resources to utilize or trade.

                        “It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing
                        he was never reasoned into” - Jonathan Swift

                        by jjohnjj on Sat Jun 01, 2013 at 04:24:48 PM PDT

                        [ Parent ]

                        •  I was wondering if its possible to use asteroids (1+ / 0-)
                          Recommended by:
                          Troubadour

                          as low G cargo loading platforms; set them up in a series of orbits around large planetary size gravity wells, like Earth, Mars, Jupiter or Saturn.

                          Earth and Mars orbits are about 78 million km apart and travel between the two takes 150 days, but I could see dividing that into maybe 15 asteroid orbits 10 days apart.

                          Jupiter and Saturn are a little farther off, but theoretically
                          you might load an asteroid with raw materials and just push it off in the right direction

                          You could launch cargo up to the loading platforms in orbit around the moons with resources, rotate slowly around the gravity well, pick up another cargo loading platform midway between orbits, and slowly build up kind of a trading/manufacturing belt.

                          Live Free or Die --- Investigate, Incarcerate

                          by rktect on Sat Jun 01, 2013 at 06:00:34 PM PDT

                          [ Parent ]

                          •  L4 and L5 Lagrange points will fill that role. (1+ / 0-)
                            Recommended by:
                            Khun David

                            For Jupiter they're already full of objects, the Trojan asteroids.  Although L4 and L5 are far away in linear distance, they're trivially easy in energy terms to reach and leave again from other Lagrange points, so if you have fast propulsion that would probably be where trading belts would be located rather than in low orbits that would probably be crowded with communications satellites.

                            Process defines product.

                            by Troubadour on Sat Jun 01, 2013 at 08:01:52 PM PDT

                            [ Parent ]

                          •  Robinson envisions using asteroids to anchor space (1+ / 0-)
                            Recommended by:
                            Troubadour

                            elevators. Park 'em in geosynchronous orbit and mine them for the raw materials to spin out the cable. What's left serves as the shell of a city-sized terminal with good thick walls for radiation shielding.

                            “It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing
                            he was never reasoned into” - Jonathan Swift

                            by jjohnjj on Sun Jun 02, 2013 at 08:50:44 AM PDT

                            [ Parent ]

                          •  It's doable right now in low gravity fields. (0+ / 0-)

                            Not Earth yet, but definitely the Moon.  Mars might have to wait a while.

                            Process defines product.

                            by Troubadour on Sun Jun 02, 2013 at 10:29:06 AM PDT

                            [ Parent ]

                          •  Space Elevators were Arthur C. Clark's idea n/t (1+ / 0-)
                            Recommended by:
                            Troubadour

                            Live Free or Die --- Investigate, Incarcerate

                            by rktect on Sun Jun 02, 2013 at 12:27:39 PM PDT

                            [ Parent ]

                    •  Great points. I totally agree about flowing (0+ / 0-)

                      around obstacles - that's often the key to radical progress.  Instead of building smaller and smaller mechanical adding machines, we leapt into the quantum realm by using electrons that are infinitely cheaper to manipulate.  So you're right: Maybe there is a network of individually marginal non-fusion energy technologies that can be utilized together to island-hop directly from Earth to Titan and flourish there.  Experts should be able to give a rough estimate of whether it's at least thermodynamically possible to harvest energy from that environment without net-benefit technologies like fusion.

                      Process defines product.

                      by Troubadour on Sat Jun 01, 2013 at 07:58:28 PM PDT

                      [ Parent ]

    •  My thoughts exactly ! I too, love these diaries. (0+ / 0-)
  •  No map of the surface? Or did I page past it? :) (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Troubadour, palantir, Athenian
  •  Tip'd, Rec'd, & 2 * Repost'd (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Troubadour, Athenian

    Thanks T. Great Stuff!

  •  The bluish outer haze over the orange layer (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Troubadour, Cartoon Peril

    is a nice touch, even if there is no designer.

  •  Looks like a bit of blue sky around the edges of (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Troubadour

    the atmosphere.

    You have exactly 10 seconds to change that look of disgusting pity into one of enormous respect!

    by Cartoon Peril on Sat Jun 01, 2013 at 08:03:27 AM PDT

    •  Could be. Mostly the same stuff as our air. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Cartoon Peril

      Process defines product.

      by Troubadour on Sat Jun 01, 2013 at 08:07:49 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I thought nitrogen was colorless (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Troubadour, Cartoon Peril

        And that our blue sky is caused by oxygen; the same reason the ocean is blue.

        Large quantities of free oxygen on Titan would be awesome since we wouldn't need to bring our own, just some method (hopefully mechanically simple and renewable) of harvesting it.

        •  Technically all gases are "colorless." Sky color (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Visceral, Cartoon Peril

          is due to Rayleigh scattering, not absorption and reflection of the kind responsible for the color of an object.  But I'm not quite sure how nitrogen and oxygen differ in their scattering properties, so I can't answer if one or both are responsible for Earth's sky being blue.  Just because one gas scatters blue wouldn't preclude another from also scattering blue, as far as I know.  

          There are no large quantities of oxygen on Titan, because every stable oxide compound is solid at those temperatures - not that it matters, because essentially all of it was bound up in water from the very formation of the system.  Ipso facto, it's probably nitrogen doing the blue scattering you see.

          Process defines product.

          by Troubadour on Sat Jun 01, 2013 at 09:29:47 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  I always thought Provo, Utah, was... (5+ / 0-)

    ...the strangest place in the universe.

    (Great series.)

    Don't tell me what you believe, show me what you do and I will tell you what you believe.

    by Meteor Blades on Sat Jun 01, 2013 at 09:49:59 AM PDT

  •  Artist's Interpretation (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Troubadour, Cartoon Peril, Khun David

    This is how I imagined Titan when I did my solar system artwork.

    Saturn & Titan photo SaturnampTitan2_zpsafab410a.jpg

    "A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world." Oscar Wilde

    by michelewln on Sat Jun 01, 2013 at 11:05:48 AM PDT

  •  Visit Beautiful Titan (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Troubadour, Cartoon Peril

    Titan is the homeworld of Saturn Girl of the Legion of Superheroes; and the high radiation surrounding Saturn might account for the mutations resulting in telepathy being so common on that moon.

    I once painted a planetscape of Titan back when I was in high school.  Not knowing much about the surface, (It would have been the late '70s, I don't think Voyager had even gotten that far by then), I painted it as a barren, rocky airless place kind of like the Moon only more colorful and with a great big honkin' Saturn looming over the horizon.

    Titan is also one of the stops in Leiji Matsumoto's anime film Galaxy Express 999, about a spaceship built to resemble and old-fashioned steam locomotive.  Matsumoto's Titan has a ruddy, overcast sky and a rustic Old West look to it.  And thanks to one of the quirky transliterations between Japanese and English, the sign at the station reads:  "TAI-TAN"

    "All the World's a Stage and Everyone's a Critic." -- Mervyn Alquist

    by quarkstomper on Sat Jun 01, 2013 at 12:10:17 PM PDT

  •  Reflecting back to Star Trek (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Troubadour

    I became engrossed in Star Trek in the 1970s, and paid close attention to the planets that the Enterprise visited.  Often, class M planets, the ones with Nitrogen-Oxygen atmospheres were depicted with blue oceans and brown continents (typically with the outlines of Earth's continents).  I think there were some that were greenish without discernable coastlines.

    But often the non-class M planets were depicted with reddish or orangish hazy features, without discernable landmarks, appearing like Titan today from the images that the Voyagers and Cassini took (I don't remember any distinct images of Titan from the Pioneers).

    When ST:TNG and the later series came out, they had better art technology, and could make wildly different coastlines than the original series could when depicting class M planets (I don't think there was a single Earth twin at this point), and the hazy non-class Ms were gone, to be replaced with rocky or icy worlds without water or atmosphere.

    Over a decade ago, Paramount created special edition versions of the original series, with updated special effects, so the Earth twins disappeard (except for the one episode where they actually encountered an Earth twin); the hazy orange planets disappered, and were reconfigued to look like the non class Ms of ST:TNG.

    the funny thing is, those hazy orange worlds reminded me of Titan, as shown by the Voyagers and Cassini, and it's a shame that Paramount decided that in order to make the worlds the Enterprise encountered look more "REAL", that some of the reality the original series might have depicted actually disappered.

    Sigline? What Sigline?

    by Khun David on Sun Jun 02, 2013 at 07:50:51 AM PDT

    •  Sounds like they tried to correct for something (0+ / 0-)

      that was never really a plot hole: Naturally the Enterprise would visit worlds that fit in a narrow range of categories, because if it's a totally airless iceball, how likely would it be to be of interest either scientifically or diplomatically?

      On the other hand, I don't recall if any of the worlds they visited were gas giant moons.  Back then, before the Voyagers imaged Titan, people didn't know moons could be complex worlds.  They were all thought to be dead, static objects like ours, or else just fragments.

      Process defines product.

      by Troubadour on Sun Jun 02, 2013 at 08:45:26 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Each time I read one of (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Troubadour

    your Solar System pieces, I find myself wishing that my grandchildren would and could comprehend what you present.  But they aren't there yet, brain/mind-wise.  

    One concept that I would most wish to convey to them is found in your discussion of Titan’s history.  It is when you say “[scientists] look at everything together, and then try to create models...”.  So I would wish to impress on them that a model as the product of processing knowledge and that model-building itself, are exciting and useful endeavors.  ‘Titan (Vol.1)’ is illustrative of these attributes.

    The first thing a child would notice about Saturn’s satellite system is the size of Titan.  “Why is it so big?” they’d ask.  It is noted that you asked a more sophisticated question to kick things off: why are the atmospheres of Titan and Ganymede different?  The answer to both these questions share the same explanation.  Again, the problem is that the child isn’t ready for the explanation as presented here.  But they are ready for model-building.  Colliding bodies are one place to start.

    Note: I for one didn’t know about volcanic venting of nitrogen and clathrates; how planet Earth is essentially a desert; that we have the atmosphere we do and a water surface at all is due to these components.  Or if I did, then I let this knowledge be subsumed by the wordy phrase ‘Spaceship Earth’.  There seems to be a want of mind in this ‘blue marble’ representation.  It no longer has the impact it had, either for our generation or for the younger post Apollo VIII generation.  For a revival, your treatment of the Solar System should be a main course throughout the K-12 years and beyond.

    Thank you.

    •  Thanks for that perspective. (0+ / 0-)

      There tends to be a terracentric belief that Earth exists in some sort of ideal location, the "habitable zone", but that isn't really the case - there are a number of combinations of circumstances that can produce potentially habitable conditions.  Mars could be naturally habitable if it were bigger, and can be artificially altered to be habitable relatively (and I stress, relatively) easily.  Ganymede and Callisto could be habitable, with H2O atmospheres, if Jupiter were moderately closer to the Sun.

      Once I finish this series, I intend to develop it into a book, and maybe an educational website / free course.

      Freedom isn't free: You have to pay taxes for it.

      by Troubadour on Mon Jun 03, 2013 at 08:43:36 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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