content long 22-October-2017 11:56:36

Winners France

13-15 years old: The lakes of Titan

 Author: Louis Vidon

Until the Cassini–Huygens mission in 2004 that allows the Saturn's Moon Titan to reveal its secrets, we didn't really focus on the second largest moon of our solar system. Among the other planets, it is the only one to have a dense atmosphere, with a liquid cycle and the presence of liquid at its surface. The analysis will therefore center on those remarkable characteristics of the object, then on the possible presence of life and finally on the questions raised by the possible discovery of life.

Firstly Titan's characteristics are very close to the Earth's ones. With surface features similar to those of our planet, including dunes, rivers, lakes and possible volcanoes with a geological activity, the moon of Saturn seems to be a little Earth. What is more, with the methane cycle with rains, winds and a seasonal weather pattern of 7.5 years, it appears as a surprising Earth-like world. Scientists believe that conditions of Titan are similar to those of the Earth a long time ago. So Titan is a natural laboratory to understand the Earth history, particularly for its atmosphere evolution.

Actually, this dense atmosphere, composed mainly of nitrogen and methane , has a complex and rich chemistry, really interesting to study as much for its composition than for the consequences it has on the whole planet. Protecting Titan, the atmosphere lets minor components fall down creating huge liquid methane lakes – the only ones in the solar system – and turning molecules into hydrocarbon with the UV. Titan hosts many chemical reactions, and scientists have proved thanks to simulations the existence of organic components and molecules that may be at the origin of life. So organic processes, leading up to the creation of new molecules would have been possible in the underground. This assertion is enlightened by the presence of an underground ocean of water. That is why I dare say it is the only planet to have such inhabitable environment in our solar system, with a possible presence of life. It may reserve a lot of surprises if further space explorations.

Considering the possible existence of life and the importance to study an Earth like world, we will now focus on the consequences of the assertion life may develop at the surface without water. If so, it would be a huge revolution in Abiogenesis. In Fact, we thought chemical reactions leading up to the creation of complex organic matter, at the origin of life, were just possible in high polarity liquids. (That is to say water like liquids which have both a partial positive charge and a negative's one). But as we might prove life have developed in methane, a low polarity liquid that would, like the relativity of Einstein, completely change the space exploration.

That is why, for its exceptional characteristics, the possible presence of life and this revolutionary thesis is to my mind Titan the following stage of space exploration in order to have further information, especially about the organic processes in the underground.


Last Update: 19 May 2017

For further information please contact: SciTech.editorial@esa.int

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