16-18 years old: The lakes of Titan
Author: Paul Disberg
This is the participation essay for the Cassini Scientist of the Day competition 2017. The participant has to choose between three pictures: the Geyser Basin of Enceladus, Saturn’s North pole and the lakes of Titan. Although it is very interesting how the geysers of Enceladus are influencing the rings of Saturn; and the North pole of Saturn could provide us valuable information about the nature of magnetic fields when it comes to planets, I chose for the lakes of Titan.
When I saw the picture of Titan it immediately reminded me of the Cosmos series by Neil deGrasse Tyson. In this series Tyson makes a journey to the surface of Titan in his ‘ship of imagination’. The key message of this fragment is that it is very good possible that there are forms of life which have adapted to the situations of this heavenly body. Titan is a very special moon because it is the only one we know of which has a dense nitrogen-rich atmosphere like earth has. This seems like a very important condition for life. This astonishing picture shows the weather system which reminds us of our home. This is the only place in our solar system besides earth where it ever rains. The main difference is that Titan seems to have traded water in for methane, not only does it rain methane but above all it has immense lakes of liquid CH4!
Lakes beyond imagination
When it comes to life on earth water is the most important substance one can think of. Scientists like to think of water as one of the most important conditions for life. But when I look at these beautiful lakes at a world so close, yet so far away, my imagination makes me wondering whether there may be life which has adapted to the circumstances of Titan. If I go on a fishing trip to this moon, would I find some swimming creature at the other end of my fishing rod? I applaud the people who managed to filter away the thick layer of smog so that these vast lakes become visible to the human eye.
No place like home
I chose for Titan because unlike the other pictures we can recognize our home, the planet earth, in this breathtaking image. Analyzing the weather systems on this moon could clarify many aspects of earth’s nature. Maybe there are some identical ways of climate which develop independently of each other? This should help making predictions about other worlds not if, but when we visit them.
In conclusion, I think this picture of Saturn’s moon Titan is by far the most interesting for science because this moon is unique in its atmosphere and earth-like weather system, its lakes triggers ones imagination about the endless possibilities of alien life and above all, we can reflect our own planet on this moon which teaches us that we can look to the universe to study our own pale blue dot.