Maggie Fye's essay - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Bulletinboard

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Maggie Fye's essay

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Posted: Friday, November 27, 2009 12:00 am

Saturn is an incredibly unique planet. Its largest moon, Titan, is perhaps even more distinct, for it has qualities that exceed the already remarkable aspects of Saturn. With seas and clouds of gas, sand dunes, a dense atmosphere, and freezing temperatures, it’s not exactly the ideal place for a vacation. However, it is the ideal place to point a telescope! Discovered in 1655 by Christiaan Huygens, Titan is still a fascinating moon, and there are still many things to discover about it. Three attempts so far have been made to discover it. The first was the Voyager, which went tremendously well, considering they knew so much more than they had before. However, the Voyager had trouble, for it could not penetrate or see through the thick orange clouds surrounding this mysterious moon. Later on, as the years passed, our knowledge of Titan grew vaster, and greater still.  Next came the more successful explorers, Cassini and Huygens. Huygens actually landed on the surface, and sent back photos.

The geography of Titan is very complex. Some features are similar to Earth’s own features, and in fact, we usually compare Titan’s geography to that of our own planet’s. Words such as methane, ethane, and other similar words could be used to describe Titan. Methane, a flammable yet odorless and colorless gas, is considered to be nonexistent in the form of liquid on Titan. On the other hand, Scientists theorize that rivers and lakes of ethane, a gas similar to methane, hold amounts of dissolved methane. This is true because this particular methane can be converted into a variety of gases on Titan. Some scientists assume that the geography of Titan could resemble that of Earth’s, before life arrived. Also, a continent-like mass of land on Titan has characteristics similar to Earth’s; characteristics such as hills, valleys, plains, mountains, and others. In fact, this “continent” was such an astounding, prominent feature of Titan; it was found and named even before Cassini found it.

Titan also has dissimilar characteristics to Earth. For instance, the gravity on Titan is 1/10 of that of Earth’s. Take a human who weighs 200 pounds for example; that would make him roughly 20 pounds on Titan! It is also less than half the size of the Earth, although it is bigger than Mercury and Pluto. Its atmosphere is made up of primarily methane and ethane gas. For various reasons, scientists think it is possible that there is life on Titan. First of all, even though the climate is freezing, it could be favorable to some life forms. In addition to this, ultraviolet light in the atmosphere provides energy, which might be an encouraging factor for sustaining life.

If this is how Earth started out, who knows what kind of life might develop on Titan? It is a very interesting moon, with all kinds of fascinating features. I think that if we dove deeper into the mystery of Titan, we might even solve mysteries of our own planet!

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