10 Reasons Why We Should Colonize Titan

When it comes to colonizing outer space, Mars gets most of the attention, but there are also some very compelling reasons why we should colonize Titan.

Saturn’s largest moon Titan is the only natural satellite with more than a trace atmosphere. The muddy orange world had eluded scientists for decades until ESA’s Huygens probe landed on the surface in 2005, making it the only spacecraft to ever land on a body in the outer solar system. It found what many scientists already suspected – a world that, in many ways, is an analogue to Earth. Titan has seas, rain and snow but, instead of water, they are based on methane and ethane. Titan is undoubtedly home to one of the most hospitable environments in the solar system, which makes it a great candidate for a permanent colony.

#1. Low Radiation

Titan's surfaceNASA

Titan’s atmosphere protects the surface from lethal radiation.

The Moon and Mars are often cited as being the most likely places where mankind will first establish a permanent presence beyond Earth. However, while far closer than Titan, one of the biggest problems they present is surface radiation. Without a thick enough atmosphere to protect their surfaces from deadly solar radiation, any colonies would ideally have to be located underground. Titan, however, has by far the densest atmosphere of any rocky body in the solar system aside from Venus. The atmosphere, combined with the solar magnetic field, is particularly effective when it comes to keeping potentially deadly ionizing radiation away from the surface.

#2. Hydrocarbon Seas

Titan has rivers, lakes and seas filled with liquid hydrocarbons rather than water.

Titan is the only object in the solar system, other than Earth, known to be home to substantial amounts of surface liquids. In fact, it sports seas, rivers, lakes and even rain and glaciers just like our own world. However, instead of water, Titan has methane and ethane, which remain liquid in temperatures of -179.5°C. With an abundance of both solid and liquid hydrocarbons on the surface, Titan has all the fuel a colony could ever need. In fact, it has hundreds of times more natural gas than all the known reserves on Earth. In Titan’s oxygen-free atmosphere, these liquids are, fortunately, not flammable either, making it much easier to obtain them for fuel.

#3. Oxygen Available

Titan atmosphereNASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI/J. Major

Titan is home to the most nitrogen-rich atmosphere in the solar system.

Titan is already home to all the elements needed to sustain life as we know it. NASA revealed in 2014 that the moon may also be home to a subsurface ocean of briny water and dissolved salts. This abundant supply of water would also provide oxygen for breathing. Additionally, Titan is home to the most nitrogen-rich atmosphere known, so colonists would only need to add oxygen, using the existing nitrogen as a buffer, to create breathable air. In fact, Titan’s atmosphere is already more than 98% nitrogen, compared to our 78%, making it more like Earth’s atmosphere than any other in the solar system.

#4. Plenty of Water

Titan compositionKelvinsong

Titan is home to abundant water, including, perhaps, a subsurface briny ocean.

Under temperatures two times colder than the coldest ever recorded on Earth, any water on the surface of Titan will be permanently frozen and as hard as granite. Nonetheless, even if there isn’t an internal briny ocean, there’s still plenty of water ice on the moon’s surface as well as locked up in the rocks beneath. Scientists believe that the outer shell of the moon is composed largely of water ice, which shouldn’t be that difficult to extract. Additionally, in 2010, NASA revealed evidence that there may even be ice volcanoes on Titan’s surface, although the finding ran into some controversy a year later.

#5. Comfortable Air Pressure

Titan LakesCharles | Earthly Universe

You wouldn’t need a pressurized suit on the surface of Titan.

Most of the rocky planets and all the other moons in the solar system have little more than a trace atmosphere. Even Mars’s atmosphere is little denser than a typical laboratory vacuum here on Earth. However, Titan’s abundant atmosphere also means that the air pressure is much more comfortable for human visitors. It’s about 50% higher than that of Earth, which is the same as being under 16.4 feet (5 metres) of water. Although habitats would ideally maintain a lower pressure for the sake of comfort, the lower differential between outside and inside would mean that any habitat breaches would merely be problematic rather than catastrophic.

#6. Abundant Fertilizers

Nitrogen fertilizerLynn Betts, U.S. Department of Agriculture

There’s so much nitrogen in Titan’s atmosphere that we could use it for fertilizer just as we do here on Earth.

Although Titan is, by itself, inhospitable, it does appear to be home to everything necessary to build a fully self-sustaining colony, which would be vital given its great distance from Earth (745 million miles or 1.2 billion km). Fortunately, Titan provides all the fertilizer colonists could ever need for growing food. Its nitrogen-rich atmosphere, combined with the abundance of methane and ammonia, could all be used for growing vegetables and building a self-sustaining ecosystem. This would undoubtedly make a welcome break from having to use faeces as fertilizer, as portrayed in the movie The Martian.

#7. Ideal for Flight

Exploring Titan by aircraft would be relatively easy given the low gravity and high atmospheric density.

By far the easiest and most economical way to get around Titan would be to fly through its smoggy orange skies. Due to its small size and low density, the moon has a surface gravity only 14% that of Earth, which is slightly lower than that of our own moon. Although the low gravity may also present long-term issues for any future colonists, it does, when combined with the high atmospheric density, make the Titanian skies perfect for flying. Becoming airborne on Titan is much easier than on Earth, and people who could run fast enough to take off may even be able to fly like birds using nothing more than wingsuits.

#8. Lots of Building Materials

TitanPixabay

Titan’s seas could provide an endless source of polymers for construction.

With its practically unending supply of both liquid and solid hydrocarbons, Titan also has everything that colonists would need to build a permanent shelter. Instead of relying on wood, brick and metal as we largely do here on Earth, the orange world would be an ideal place to use space-age polymers for building sustainable structures on the surface. Thanks to the fact that the thick atmosphere and Saturn’s magnetic field keep the surface free of harmful radiation, colonists would be able to build surface habitats as well, rather than having to carve out vast underground shelters to escape the dangers of the surface.

#9. Nearby Resources

Saturnian SystemNASA

The Saturnian system is home to 62 moons and multiple rings composed of billions of icy particles.

Although Titan accounts for almost all the mass orbiting Saturn and is by far the planet’s largest moon, the abundance of other bodies in the Saturnian system also presents great economic and exploratory potential. For example, nearby Enceladus is home to a subsurface water ocean, kept liquid by the tidal friction caused by Saturn’s immense gravitational pull. This makes it one of the most likely places in the solar system to find extraterrestrial life, although the surface itself is thoroughly inhospitable. Nonetheless, a permanent base on Titan would be ideal for use as an outpost, a stepping-stone to numerous other destinations in the outer solar system.

#10. It’s Survivable

Huygens LanderNASA

An artist’s rendering of the Huygens landing site, inspired by photos of the surface taken by the lander before it stopped transmitting 90 minutes after touching down.

As a possible destination for future colonists, Titan sports one trait that nowhere else in the solar system, other than Earth (and, perhaps, the upper clouds of Venus) can claim: Its surface is survivable without a spacesuit. Humans could walk freely on the surface of Titan, provided they have protection against the bitter cold and a respirator for breathing. Thanks to the tolerable air pressure, there wouldn’t be any need for a pressurized suit, which is essential on Mars, the Moon or any other surface beyond Earth. Just don’t forget to bring warm clothing though – try to breathe in the Titanian air, and your lungs would freeze solid in an instant.

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Titan truly is an incredible world; easily the most unique moon in our solar system as well as home to the most hospitable environment beyond Earth. Sure, it’s dark and cold, but it offers great potential to any future colonists seeking to establish a permanent presence in the outer solar system. Where do you think humanity will establish its existence as a truly spacefaring civilization? Let me know in the comments below!

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