NASA starts scouting for a back-up planet, set to investigate Saturn’s “earthlike” Titan

NASA has decided that Earth is beyond saving, so we’re off to Titan, Saturn’s freakiest moon. Methane storms, electric sand, rolling gas streams. At least it isn’t humid.



It’s fair to say that we’ve fucked this planet up. So, in the search for plains anew, NASA is going to attempt to place a flying robot on Saturn’s moon, Titan, one that purportedly is most likely to have alien life upon it.



“The science is compelling . . . and the mission is bold,” Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate administrator for science, said Thursday. “I am convinced now is the right time to do this,” Zurbuchen noted, citing 2026 as the speculative date for lift-off.

Which makes sense, as the general date for our climate apocalypse is set for 2050. It gives us a very small, but valuable window to blow this volcanic popsicle stand. Elizabeth Turtle, the mission’s principal investigator and a researcher at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, stated that Titan resembles the infant version of this planet, before life evolved, and we ruined it by keeping the air conditioner on too long.

“Titan is just a perfect chemical laboratory to understand the chemistry that occurred before chemistry took the step to biology,” Turtle said.

Titan is bigger than the planet Mercury and is apparently as geographically diverse as Earth is. It features a thick, methane-rich atmosphere, mountains of ice and the only surface seas in the solar system besides ours. The rivers and seas, however, are filled with liquid hydrocarbons, which are the building blocks for our petroleum and gas.

“Instead of liquid water, Titan has liquid methane,” scientists reported in the journal Nature. “Instead of silicate rocks, Titan has frozen water ice. Instead of dirt, Titan has hydrocarbon particles settling out of the atmosphere.”

It’s a freaky tableau, sure, but “we know it has all of the ingredients that are necessary to help life form,” said Lori Glaze, NASA’s planetary science division director.

NASA hasn’t seen the surface of Titan since 2005, when the Huygens probe popped by for a visit. It’s a sort of alternate Earth, with each familiar feature chemically twisted.

So, it’ll take some getting used to. There’s another downside. At nearly a billion miles from the sun, it’s rather chilly. A mild day on Titan sees temperatures circle around -180 degrees Celsius, with the insertion of more oxygen on the moon would see most of it catch fire (due to those pesky hydrocarbons). It is also subject to extreme methane storms, and it also has electrified sand.

Which, I mean, as long as it isn’t humid.

“We are pretty darn sure that everything in these broad, big-picture categories that are required for life exists on Titan,” Johns Hopkins University planetary scientist Sarah Hörst said. “At some point, it just comes down to, well, shouldn’t we go check?”

I’m going to start packing.



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