Science combines two things that seem far apart – being a dreamer and being a realist to the n’th degree. You see science actually explains things and makes things possible that seem impossible. Some people read a Heinlein or Arthur C Clarke book and say wow that was good but some people read the same book and come away charged because they feel they can make that science fiction into a reality.
So when I tell you about a new picture from the Cassini spacecraft of Titan that besides showing a beautiful vista has scientists excited; know that in their minds the wheels are turning!
Titan is a cold place, -179 degrees Celsius (289 F). It is a tad different from here on Earth although many would likely enjoy its oceans and lakes of liquid methane and ethane, liquid gold one might say: fuel or resources. But quiet your mind and watch the water lap up on the shorelines.
While the shorelines displayed in the picture are at the pole (Titan’s North Pole to be precise) Cassini has confirmed that this exists in the southern region as well. What the southern region also has is greater volcanic activity.
Titan actually sounds like a great place to live. Sure it has a largely nitrogen atmosphere, a methane, ethane, and nitrogen cocktail form a rich organic smog. The climate is nice though it includes rain and wind and creates the interesting features such as dunes, rivers, lakes, seas and deltas. It has seasonal weather patterns much as Earth does.
Titan is a colonist’s paradise. There are resources galore. Water? Well, while the atmosphere contains a lot of nitrogen and methane, and there is strong evidence that liquid methane is on the surface of her lakes and oceans, beneath the surface evidence points to water and ammonia are present under the surface (delivered to the surface by volcanic activity). And with water we can easily generate breathable oxygen. Not to mention Nitrogen, methane and ammonia can all be used to produce fertilizer for growing food.
It has an atmospheric density of one and one half times that of Earth. What does that mean? Many things. For one, to prepare for transfer from our atmosphere to theirs, simply change the dial! Unlike the Moon or Mars or even an asteroid all of which are zero pressure environments, the atmosphere of Titan just requires turning the dial to met used to it and head out into the thick of it. And the cool part? First off it is an architect’s dream – he could build up floor upon floor and the atmosphere would help rather than hinder! Choose to live in his 100 floor building and one day take a leap out of the window – fear not. If you change your mind around floor 37, just put your arms out and glide to safety.
But possibly the best part is that all the atmospheric density makes radiation a non-issue.
Of course Titan’s atmosphere contains hydrogen cyanide and very little is necessary to cause death; but - Scientific calculations to date show that the amounts are too low to cause much more than a headache.
Supposedly genetic adaptations may be possible to allow the continued survival of us mere humans. The human chemistry might not respond well to a -100 C temperature but extremophile microorganisms could provide the needed boost.
Human health and gravity are linked. Titan with a gravity of 0.14 g (in between the Moon and Mars) could cause some problems. Hence managing long-term effects of low gravity on human health would be an issue for colonists of Titan. Varying symptoms such as symptoms such as loss of bone density, loss of muscle density, and a weakened immune system may appear not to mention the problem with swallowing or bodily functions that use gravity in their plan. Still astronauts in Earth orbit have remained in microgravity for up to a year or more at a time. Effective countermeasures for the negative effects of low gravity do exist including a particularly aggressive regimen of daily physical exercise which can be attained while wearing an exo-skeleton suit.
The variation in the negative effects of low gravity as a function of different levels of low gravity is not known, since all research in this area is restricted to humans in zero gravity. The same goes for the potential effects of low gravity on fetal and pediatric development. It has been hypothesized that children born and raised in low gravity such as on Titan would not be well adapted for life under the higher gravity of Earth.
I have often wondered do the effects of gravity on human cause problems at all as every time it is discussed it is when the person returns to gravity. What if they never do?
Artificial gravity produced by spinning "merry go round" or "tilt-a-whirl" colonies could effectively eliminate any effects of low gravity.
Just one final comment on Titan and then you can go and daydream of its lakefront property. People AKA some scientists suggest that it is too bad that life can’t exist on Titan as certainly all life requires O2 and H2O. Obviously not ALL scientists. A an fyi- creatures on Titan might breathe H2, exhale methane and use hydrocarbons instead of water as a solvent…just saying!