Titan. The most majestic of Saturn’s many moons. And the most promising for life too. It’s got a beautiful view and liquid lakes on its surface. The only problem is those lakes aren’t filled with water. They’re filled with liquid methane. Your mission is to take a 5-second dip in one of them.
Of course, you’d have to land on Titan first. It would be a long trip, so buckle up for the most epic adventure of your lifetime. Titan is far. Even at its closest to Earth, this icy moon is still about 1.2 billion km (746 million mi) away from us.
You’d be looking at roughly seven years of travel alone in the spaceship. You’d need lots of provisions and a super advanced life support system. You know, it would be good if you made it to Titan and didn’t freeze or suffocate somewhere in the middle of the Solar System. Yeah, that’s not going to happen to you. Just sit back and enjoy the ride.
7 YEARS LATER
Whoa, seeing Saturn up close is amazing. Definitely the most spectacular of all the ringed planets in the Solar System. But hey, enough sightseeing. Time to make your way to your destination. Titan is unique in many ways. For one, it’s larger than our Moon. It’s even bigger than Mercury, the smallest planet in our cosmic neighborhood. It’s the only moon that has a thick atmosphere. It’s also the only one that’s covered in liquid lakes, rivers and seas. And sometimes, it rains here too.
Descending on Titan would take you about 2.5 hours. And you couldn’t just land anywhere. Titan is covered in lakes, so unless you wanted to dip your entire spacecraft in liquid methane, you’d better choose your landing site carefully.
This moon of Saturn might look a lot like Venus, but it’s not as hellishly hot. Titan is one of the most hospitable places in the Solar System. Yeah, its gravity is only 14% of Earth’s, but its thicker atmosphere makes it possible for you to walk there even without a spacesuit.
But I wouldn’t recommend that. You’d need the suit to keep you warm. Yeah, Titan is very far away from the Sun, so it doesn’t receive as much warmth as we do here on Earth. You’d be taking a brisk stroll at a chilling -180 °C (-290 °F).Well, you wouldn’t exactly be strolling. More like bouncing around. Thanks to Titan’s weaker gravity, you’d feel a lot lighter and could jump higher and move with less effort.
Now, Titan’s atmosphere is mostly nitrogen, very similar to Earth’s. But you still couldn’t breathe on this moon because that’s where the similarity ends. While 95% of the air here is nitrogen, the remaining 5% is methane. You’d need an oxygen tank to survive even 5 seconds on this world.
Yeah, it’s not just lakes that have methane in them. There’s plenty of methane in Titan’s clouds. And sometimes, it even rains methane. But this rain isn’t like anything you’ve ever seen on Earth. It would be more like rain in slow motion, thanks to Titan’s lower gravity and thick atmosphere. On Earth, raindrops fall at about 9 m/s (30 ft/s). On Titan, their speed is only about 1.6 m/s (5 ft/s). That’s six times slower. It’d be pretty cool to walk in the rain here.
But hey, you didn’t come here for a walk in the rain. You came to take a dip in Titan’s lakes.
CHASE: Um, I wouldn’t do that if I were you.
Alt: WAIT – You’re gonna break the ice without me?!
ASTRONAUT: Excuse me? Who’s here?
CHASE: Alright, let’s do this. What’s up, everybody? I’m Chase. I’m from the year 3050. And for the last… well, time’s a bit wobbly where I come from… I’ve been traveling through space and time. The thing is, I die. A LOT. Like, it’s my special power.
CHASE: It all started when I accidentally touched this shiny alien cube.
CHASE: Now, I can jump between worlds, dimensions and time. And when I die, I always come back. I’m still trying to figure out how that works.
CHASE: It’s pretty cool. I’ve seen things you wouldn’t believe. Jumped on the rings of distant planets, been the guest of honor at alien feasts, not always in a good way. And there was that one time I accidentally started an interstellar war.
CHASE: But now, I’m here, on Titan, to stop you from whatever it is you’re doing.
ALT: But now, I’m here, on Titan, to stop you from dying. Cuz you only live once – except if you’re me.
CHASE: You know why? Well, because you’d likely die. I can do better. I can show you how to complete your mission and safely return home. All I’m saying is that I’m smarter and I got this.
ALT: So I’m gonna show you how to do this properly. So you can complete your mission and safely return home.
CHASE: So Titan’s got this super chilly vibe going on. I’m talking temperatures that make your winter look like a beach vacation. -180 °C (-290 °F), but you already knew this. At those temps, the water’s harder than concrete.
CHASE: But methane and ethane? They’re like, ‘Hey, it’s cold, but we can still chill in liquid form.’ So, they gather up in these massive lakes and seas.
ASTRONAUT: OK, I knew that too.
CHASE: Hey, no interrupting! I’m just getting to the good part.
CHASE: So, your mission is to take a dip in one of Titan’s famous methane pools, huh? Let me break it down for ya.
CHASE: First off, this isn’t a spa day. It’s more like diving into a freezer. I mean, what did you expect from this frigid world?
CHASE: Now, let’s say you’re wearing your fancy spacesuit. Good news, you won’t instantly turn into an astronaut popsicle. Bad news, that suit’s gonna float.
CHASE: If, for some wild reason, you decided to take a plunge without your suit, well, lights out, my friend. The incredible cold would get you first. You’d freeze, unable to move a muscle. Then the lack of oxygen would finish the job. Even I wouldn’t risk it jumping in the lake without protective gear.
CHASE: But five seconds with the spacesuit on doesn’t sound like a long enough time to die. Does it? Let’s test this theory. We’ll both get in to prove my calculations are correct. It’ll be fun! OK. Your mission brief didn’t mention swimming in Titan’s lakes without a spacesuit. So go for it!
CHASE: Huh! Seems like your spacesuit can’t quite withstand the cold. Someone needs an upgrade. Ah, this actually feels refreshing. I think I’ll float around for a bit.
Um. Chase? Yeah, I don’t think he survived this. It appears that the cold temperature cracked his suit, and methane reacted with the oxygen tank inside it. He should’ve read about this in the mission brief. Who knew that methane is so flammable? Well, just leave him here, I guess? Didn’t he say he comes back when he dies?
Anyway, the mission is a success. The only thing left is to figure out how to get home. Maybe, instead of returning to Earth, we could set up shop on Titan?