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10-12 years old: The lakes of Titan

 Author: Lukas Montgomery

It is my belief is that scientists should concentrate their investigation as much as is possible, on the lakes of Saturn’s moon Titan. The probe Cassini’s scanning of Titan’s surface appears to indicate that these lakes contain all the building blocks necessary to make and support life. Although the planet is quite distant from the sun, it is possible that some sort of lifeforms exist there.  Another point is than In maybe one to two hundred years we could create a bubble that would keep heat inside itself and a space ship big enough to travel 1.4 billion km and transport a whole colony so we could expand human life into more parts of the galaxy. In order to do this, we would need a stepping stone to reach further out into space.  Titan could be a base from which to explore further out into our own solar system.

Because there are dissolvable rocks on Titan like limestone and gypsum there might be underground water and with the different atmosphere and ground, we might create hybrid plants and maybe a new ecosystem on the lakes and seas.

Because the seas and lakes are made from liquid hydrocarbon we may create a new type of fuel similar to diesel or petrol, which could be used in spacecraft and other space vehicles that need a lot of fuel or a very powerful one.

Perhaps Titan might become an off earth colony one day as the earth becomes more and more overcrowded.

 

13-15 years old: The lakes of Titan

Author: Padraig Savage

The lakes of Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, are bodies of liquid ethane and methane that have been detected by the Cassini-Huygens space probe, but were suspected to exist before their discovery. The large ones are known as maria (seas) and the small ones as lacūs (lakes). The possibility that there were seas on titan was first suggested based on data from the voyager 1 and 2  space probes, launched in August and September 1977. The data showed Titan to have a thick atmosphere of approximately the correct temperature and composition to support them. Direct evidence was not obtained until 1995 when data from the Hubble Space Telescope and other observations had already suggested the existence of liquid methane on Titan, either in disconnected pockets or on the scale of satellite-wide oceans, similar to water on Earth. The possibility remained that liquid ethane and methane might be found on Titan's polar regions, where they were expected to be abundant and stable. In Titan's south polar region, an enigmatic dark feature named Ontario Lacus was the first suspected lake identified, possibly created by clouds that are observed to cluster in the area. A possible shoreline was also identified near the pole via radar imagery. Following a flyby on July 22, 2006, in which the Cassini spacecraft's radar imaged the northern latitudes (which were at the time in winter), a number of large, smooth (and thus dark to radar) patches were seen dotting the surface near the pole. Based on the observations, scientists announced ""definitive evidence of lakes filled with methane on Saturn's moon Titan"" in January 2007.  The Cassini–Huygens team concluded that the imaged features are almost certainly the long-sought hydrocarbon lakes, the first stable bodies of surface liquid found off Earth. Some appear to have channels associated with liquid and lie in topographical depressions. Channels in some regions have created surprisingly little erosion, suggesting erosion on Titan is extremely slow, or some other recent phenomena may have wiped out older riverbeds and landforms. Overall, the Cassini radar observations have shown that lakes cover only a few percent of the surface and are concentrated near the poles, making Titan much drier than Earth.  The high relative humidity of methane in Titan's lower atmosphere could be maintained by evaporation from lakes covering only 0.002–0.02% of the whole surface. During a Cassini flyby in late February 2007, radar and camera observations revealed several large features in the north polar region interpreted as large expanses of liquid methane During a Cassini flyby in late February 2007, radar and camera observations revealed several large features in the north polar region interpreted as large expanses of liquid methane and/or ethane, including one, ligera mare, with an area of 126,000 km2 (slightly larger than Lake Michigan–Huron, the largest lake on Earth), and another, kraken mare, that would later prove to be three times that size. A flyby of Titan's southern polar regions in October 2007 revealed similar, though far smaller, lake like features.

16-18 years old: Ice plumes at the south pole of Enceladus

Author: Jack Kennedy

I think the icy plumes of Enceladus will yield incredible scientific results. Saturn's largest Moon, Titan was of particular interest to scientists because they thought it was the most able body of harbouring life in our solar system besides Earth. Since then Enceladus has grasped the scientific enthusiasm that Titan once held. In contrast to Titan, Enceladus is a lot smaller, 10.2 times smaller. Although it is small and exerts quite a week gravitational force, scientists believe that it has the greatest potential in the Solar system for harbouring extra-terrestrial life. The 30-kilometer thick ice sheets that cover the surface of Enceladus float on top of an ocean that is likely 10 kilometres deep. This would explain the slight wobble that Enceladus has. It is still hard to determine whether this ocean is a global body of water or just an ocean confined to the south pole of Enceladus. Cryovolcanoes expel large amounts of water vapour travelling at a speed of 0.556 km/s. This is a sufficient speed for the contents of the expulsion to escape Enceladus's gravity as the escape velocity is only 0.239 km/s. The particles are then caught in the gravitational pull of Saturn where they have become the primary contributor to Saturn's E-ring, a much fainter ring compared to the rest. Enceladus's atmosphere is composed of 91% water vapour which may have once been part of the subsurface ocean but was ejected from the cryovolcanoes. When Cassini performed a daring flyby of Enceladus it analysed the particles discharged from the cryovolcanoes and determined that they contained the mineral salt. This further supports the claim of a subsurface salt water ocean. As many of us know liquid water must maintain a temperature of between 0 and 99 degrees celsius in order to maintain it's liquid state. This would require Enceladus to possess a source of heat or have it generated by other means. New evidence, thanks to the Cassini mission, suggests that Enceladus's ocean floor could be at near-boiling temperatures. It would be the first evidence of hydrothermal vents on a solar body other than our home, Earth. This is one plausible theory. However, there is another more likely theory. It is could all be down to what we call tidal heating. Heat can be generated by tidal forces as a result of orbital resonance between Enceladus and another Saturnian moon twice as large called Dione. The heat would be no greater than 1.1 gigawatts. That's enough power to power 750,000 homes. The presence of radioactive material could add an extra 0.3 gigawatts to the total power generated on Enceladus. The possibility of a subsurface ocean being heated to the point of boiling is incredibly fascinating on its own, but maybe there could be life. It may only be microbial but it would be revolutionary. There may even be remnants of past life frozen in the ice waiting to be found. These are questions we hope to answer and can answer with further investigation.

16-18 years old: Ice plumes at the south pole of Enceladus

Author: Waldemar Lagodzinski

Enceladus Plumes are out of the three options the most interesting and fascination and I believe that they will yield the best scientific results out of the three if the Cassini Space Orbiter was to do more missions involving observation of the plumes and the Moon itself. The main reason I believe that the plumes will yield the best scientific results is because: Initially the Enceladus Plumes were observed by scientists ejecting large amounts of water vapour from the south polar surface, the observation was made by the Cassini Space Orbiter back in 2005 and it was the first evidence of water on Enceladus. Due to this observation, it was concluded that the Moon contains a reservoir below the surface which feeds the Plums. At the time though it was unknown if the Moon contained a full ocean below the surface or just a small body of water that was concentrated at the south pole where these plumes ejected vapour towards Saturn. It was also calculated the moon has a very slight wobble as it orbits Saturn, this unsteady motion was concluded to be due to the water (ocean below the surface) sloshing around inside the moon as it orbits instead of the idea that the moon was made of ice all the way to core.

The conclusion that the moon contains an ocean below the surface is both fascinating and incredibly interesting as this has incredible potential, if more missions are carried out to investigate and study both the plumes and the moon to gain some really valuable scientific data and even make an enormous scientific breakthrough. The reason I say breakthrough is because the presence of an ocean beneath the surface which if it contains the right conditions, an energy source and the necessary organic compounds has the potential to contain extra-terrestrial life on a microscopic level such as single cell organisms, which if discovered would be the first ever discovery of life beyond earth and it would also answer the age-old question “Are we alone in the universe ?”. But even beyond the most fascinating discovery that could potentially be made, there is still other unanswered questions such as how Enceladus could have maintained a liquid ocean for so long and where the necessary energy comes from to do this, it has been proposed that the main heating mechanism is tidal forces which can be attributed to Saturn with potential radioactive decay and some sort of heat producing chemical reaction that could be taking place beneath the surface but it is still unknown and further missions would help uncover these mysteries about Saturn’s moon Enceladus.

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.

16-18 years old: The lakes of Titan

Authors: Cormac Harte, Rory McElroy, Ciaran Doherty

We believe the target which will reveal the most information is target two - the lakes of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. After researching all possible targets, we have come to the conclusion that target two can yield the most scientific information which could aid our understanding of Saturn, its moons, and life itself. Titan is Saturn’s largest moon with a surface area of 83 billion km2.  This means it is large enough to have a dense, hazy atmosphere, which is composed largely of nitrogen (98.4%), methane (1.4%) and hydrogen (0.2%). Titan is a rocky, partially icy moon. The rocks on Titan are rough and jagged. The lakes on Titan are largely made up of liquid methane and ethane, and there are possibly hundreds of them. They are theorised to contain about 300 times the liquid of Earth’s proven oil reserves. The smaller lakes are called lacūs while the larger ones are known as maria. The lakes only cover a few percent of Titan`s surface though it is theorised that there is a large ocean beneath the surface of the moon. The benefits of harnessing the lakes’ liquids are numerous.  The most important benefit is that they could be used as fuel for machines and engines. This could potentially help us explore the outer-reaches of space.  Also, underneath the moon’s surface, there could be a vast liquid ocean. This ocean could potentially harvest life in the form of micro-organisms. If this were to be correct, we would be able to confirm that there is, in fact, other life in the universe and that we are not alone. If the lakes are harnessed, a settlement could be established on this moon that could drastically help us study the planet of Saturn and its many moons. Target one is the ice plumes of Enceladus. These ice plumes show that pure water could potentially be on this moon. Although this could be a huge discovery, there is no current method of harnessing the ice plumes that shoot out of the moon . Titan has mass reserves of potentially usable oil which is even bigger discovery than Enceladus’ ice plumes. Also, Titan is a possibly habitable moon, unlike Enceladus which has a surface completely composed of solid ice.

Target three is the hexagon at Saturn`s north pole. It is one of the many mysteries that surround Saturn`s peculiar formation. This hexagon has a diameter of 13,800km which covers Saturn`s north pole, which is believed to have been formed by strong atmospheric winds, commonly known as jet streams. Although this formation is fascinating, investigating Titan`s lakes propose a much larger array of potential discoveries such as inhabiting the moon itself. In conclusion, we believe that Titan’s lakes are the target that would hold the most potential, from its methane-rich lakes to the theorised water-filled ocean beneath its surface. This moon has potential to be inhabited due to its relatively Earth-like atmospheric pressure and thus, may be our next big step towards the future of space exploration.

Last Update: 1 September 2019
24-Feb-2020 21:16 UT

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