Settler as imagined in the National Geographic Mars series.

Settler as imagined in the National Geographic Mars series.

In our movies and novels, the Moon or Mars is usually the other place for humans to live in our solar system. It seems more fiction than reality, but they are closer and more hospitable compared to Mercury and Venus.

I’m watching the Mars series on the National Geographic channel now. Turns out, despite movies, books and TV shows, the Moon and Mars have no protective magnetosphere or atmosphere and that makes them lousy choices for colonies. Galactic Cosmic Rays (GCR), the energetic particles from distant supernovae, bombard both places and humans just can’t live long-term under those conditions.

I was surprised to see an article at scientificamerican.com that says that beyond Mars, the next best potential home is among the moons of Jupiter and Saturn. There are dozens of those and it seems that the best option is Saturn’s largest moon Titan. It is the most Earthlike body  in our system.

 

titan

Composite infrared image of Saturn’s moon Titan from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona/University of Idaho. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Titan is the only other body in the solar system with liquid on the surface. These are not watering or fishing holes though. They are lakes of methane and ethane. It rains methane on Titan.

Titan has a nitrogen atmosphere 50 percent thicker than Earth’s for protection. There are vast quantities of hydrocarbons in solid and liquid form on the surface that can be used for energy.

No oxygen in the atmosphere, but water ice just below the surface could be used to provide oxygen for breathing and to combust hydrocarbons as fuel.

You’ll need warm clothing with your respirators. It’s cold on Titan. How does  -180°C (-291°F) sound? But the plus of that thick atmosphere is that if you are a Titanian you won’t need pressure suits.

We can build shelters of plastic produced from the plentiful resources there. Nice domes inflated by warm oxygen and nitrogen would give us huge indoor spaces.

Titan’s weak gravity and thick atmosphere would allow you to leap easily and maybe even fly with some type of wings on your back. Falling would be gentle.

But don’t pack your suitcases just yet. Currently, we can’t really get to Titan or even Mars. We need faster propulsion to limit the time in space and those doses of GCR. The trip currently would take seven years.

As Charles Wohlforth and Amanda Hendrix, authors of Beyond Earth: Our Path to a New Home in the Planets, say:

There is no quick way to move off the Earth. We will have to solve our problems here. But if our species continues to invest in the pure science of space exploration and the stretch technology needed to preserve human health in space, people will eventually live on Titan.

 

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