Six billion years from now, when the Sun becomes a red giant, engulfing all of the inner planets of the solar system, including Earth, hopefully mankind will have moved somewhere a little less warm. A possible location could be Titan.
Titan is the largest of Saturn’s 62 moons, and the only other satellite that is known to have a dense atmosphere and clear indications of surface liquid, including ice.
At present Titan is far too cold for human habitation – it only gets 1% of the sunlight that Earth receives, and has a surface temperature of -290 degrees Celsius – but as the red giant sun increased it size it would get hotter on Titan, enabling a chain of events similar to those, scientists think, would have been encountered on Earth hundreds of millions of years ago.
These conditions could create a life-supporting environment, which would last for several hundred million years, which was enough time for life to emerge on Earth.
Another moon in the solar system that scientists have said may contain an environment that contains life is Europa, one of Jupiter’s satellites. Watch this clip as Professor Stephen Hawking describes what alien life on Europa might be like.
Titan was discovered by Christiaan Huygens in 1665. But it was not until 1847, when John Herschel named all of the satellites of Saturn after figures in Roman mythology.
Areas, like continents on Earth, are named exotic things, like: Xanadu, Shangri-La and Adiri, while one of its lakes is called Jingpo Lacus.
The Cassini-Huygens spacecraft, sent to explore Saturn and its moons, has been, and will be continuing this mission up until 2017 – when it will crash land into Saturn, burning up in its atmosphere.
The Huygens probe separated from the ship in 2005 and landed on Titan’s surface, sending back incredible data about the moon and its constituent elements.
Did you know…?
- Titan’s atmosphere is so thick, and its gravity so low, that a human could fly through it just by strapping on a pair of wings and flapping.
A really cool 3D interactive virtual tour of Saturn and her moons.
See all of the pictures from the Cassini-Huygens Mission of Saturn and its moons.
Nasa’s page about the Cassini mission.
Pictures and videos from the Huygens lander as it landed on Titan.