Quad-Cities Popular Astronomy Club: My Alien Vacation Home (Part 2)

Alan Sheidler People’s Astronomy Club

Last month I looked at the possibility of colonizing other planets in the solar system and how none are actually good candidates due to the harsh conditions. This month, we’ll be looking at the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, and one in particular that has characteristics similar to Earth’s.

Jupiter is currently known to have 80 moons and Saturn to 83, all of which vary greatly in size, shape, and composition. Jupiter’s moons, Ganymede and Callisto, and Saturn’s moon, Titan, are all roughly the same size as the planet Mercury.

My favorite moon is Titan. Titan is an interesting object that could have interesting characteristics for colonization.

Titan’s atmosphere is approximately 95% nitrogen and 5% methane. Atmospheric pressure at the surface is 60% higher than on Earth, comparable to what a diver might feel at a depth of around 20 feet. It’s tolerable.

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The Earth’s atmosphere is made up of approximately 80% nitrogen and 20% oxygen. Although there is no free oxygen in Titan’s atmosphere, the dominant nitrogen is very similar to what we have here.

The big problem with Titan is the freezing cold. The surface temperature there is approximately minus 280 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 175 Celsius). Although it is much colder than ever in Antarctica, a human could potentially withstand the temperature with very well insulated or heated clothing, and would only need an oxygen mask to breathe. A pressurized spacesuit, like the one needed on the surface of the Moon, would not be needed on Titan.

Interestingly, despite Titan being 50% larger than our Moon, the surface gravity is actually lower. Titan’s gravity is only one-seventh that of Earth (the Moon is one-sixth). This is because Titan is composed mostly of water ice and other frozen ice in its crust.

Titan has an average density of about 1.88 (the density of liquid water is 1.00). The density of the Earth is 5.51 and that of the Moon is 3.34. Both the Earth and the Moon have large, heavy iron cores surrounded by layers of rock. On the other hand, Titan lacks a significant iron core, which makes it very light. The result is very weak gravity on Titan’s surface.

If you want to lose weight without dieting, Titan would be a good place to visit. A 150-pound human would only weigh about 21 pounds on Titan. Weight Watchers, eat hard!

Here’s a question to ponder: how fast would a skydiver fall if he jumped from a plane flying over Titan?

The average skydiver here achieves a maximum free fall speed (i.e. terminal velocity) of around 120 miles per hour, or 200 kilometers per hour. This speed depends on the height and weight of the parachutist, as well as the density of the air in which he falls.

Given Titan’s dense atmosphere and low gravity, it would be interesting to try skydiving there and see what happens. Because the air pressure is higher and the temperature is lower, the air density near Titan’s surface is about four times higher than on Earth. Since gravity is only one-seventh stronger, the terminal velocity could be considerably lower. In fact, if we do the math, we find that a skydiver on Titan would have a terminal velocity of only 22 miles per hour (35 kilometers per hour).

Would a skydiver even need a parachute on Titan? Guess doing a belly slap face down at 22 miles per hour wouldn’t be good, but it might be possible to survive. To avoid injury, a parachute would still be needed, although it could be much smaller than the one used on Earth, given Titan’s thick atmosphere.

Besides the recreational opportunities offered by idle skydiving, another reason Titan could be an attractive location for real estate development are its beautiful lakefront properties. Yes, Titan actually has lakes, but not those filled with liquid water.

Titan’s lakes are filled with liquid hydrocarbons such as methane and ethane. The H2O on Titan is frozen, but could easily be tapped as a source of drinking water and broken down into hydrogen for rocket fuel and oxygen for respiration.

In fact, Titan’s huge reserves of hydrocarbons, found both in lakes and in the atmosphere, could easily be burned using current technology, separating oxygen from H2O to generate heat and Energy.

Besides the recreational opportunities offered by idle skydiving, another reason Titan could be an attractive location for real estate development are its beautiful lakefront properties. Yes, Titan actually has lakes, but not those filled with liquid water.

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