content long 20-August-2018 22:02:12

Winners Ireland

16-18 years old: The lakes of Titan

Author: Áine Sweeney

The Lakes of Titan are by far the most fascinating of the images, not only are the lakes beautiful but also enticing with the possibility of life and a detailed comparative study of Earth and Titan would be phenomenal. I believe that further study should be carried out on the Lakes of Titan to see if liquid water is the only solvent in which life can form and cultivate. I would hope to find out whether it would be possible if life could use the liquid hydrocarbons as a solvent on Titan, even though it has been ruled out by many scientists, given that the approximate temperature on Titan is -179 degrees Celsius. Examining the image of Titan’s Lakes, which are the only surface lakes known to exist in our Solar System apart from those of Earth, made me ponder whether Titan is more similar to Earth than we think. From a geographical perspective, I found the possible formation of the lakes extremely captivating. Its formation is similar to the karstic landscape found in The Burren in County Clare, and to think that the second biggest moon in our Solar System could have similar attributes to a site a few hours away from me! I think it would be important to uncover for certain why the lakes form a great deal slower on Titan while looking at the key factor of acid rain on Earth. The smoggy atmosphere of Titan can be seen in the photo. It is the only moon in the solar system known to have clouds and a thick-planet like atmosphere. The atmosphere is mostly made of nitrogen, similar to the Earth’s, which is 78% nitrogen. The lakes are made from ethane and methane, which are in liquid form because of how cold it is, given the distance from the sun. Nitrogen dissolves into the methane lakes, and if there is a sudden change in atmospheric factors, it causes it to fizz. I find this extremely fascinating as on Earth, excessive nitrogen pollution can cause excess algae to form which deprives aquatic life of oxygen. Could this chemical reaction be possibly hindering the development of life on Titan by depriving life of nutrients through similar means? Climate change is a global issue, and I think that by looking at a similar atmosphere, it will highlight how much harm we are doing to ours. I think it would be interesting to look at how Titan’s atmosphere breaks the sunlight into carbon and hydrogen, which reacts with nitrogen, to form a haze. The haze is thought to be acting as a shield against the UV light, similar to the ozone layer. This is further evidence to suggest the possibility of life on Titan. All in all, I believe that through this study, we would have a better scope of life outside our planet. Although extremely unlikely, I hope to find that Titan would be habitable, seeing as soon, Earth may no longer be, thanks to global warming.

Last Update: 19 May 2017

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