Move Over, Mars — Saturn's Moon Titan Could Be The Best Spot For A Human Space Colony

Brilliance | Dec. 13, 2017

Between Stephen Hawking's increasingly dire warnings of our planet's imminent doom and Elon Musk's fleshed-out plan to colonize the Red Planet, everyone sure is in a hurry to get outta Dodge these days. But where to next? Our best bet might be Saturn's moon Titan.

Location, Location, Location

News broke in 2017 that the toxicity of Mars' surface would throw a wrench in the plan to move there, and the lacking atmosphere on our moon poses a challenge. Ugh, now what? While the conversation around space colonies usually centers around Mars and the moon, a July 2017 study published in the Journal of Astrobiology asserts that Saturn's moon Titan is another viable option. It's nothing we haven't thought of before, but this paper breathes new life into the theory.

"Saturn's moon Titan is the optimal location in the solar system for an off-Earth human settlement," researchers Amanda Hendrix from the Planetary Science Institute in Arizona and Yuk Yung from Caltech write in the paper. (Hendrix also penned this blog post on the idea in Scientific American along with author Charles Wohlforth in 2016.) "It has Earth-like qualities and a thick atmosphere that provides shielding from damaging radiation unlike any other solid surface location in the solar system." Ralph Lorenz, a planetary scientist at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland, told New Scientist it's not a bad thought: "I think long-term, after Mars, Titan's probably the next most important place that people will have an extended presence."

No One Moon Should Have All That Power

Titan looks so good for human living for two reasons: atmosphere and energy. The shield from radiation thing is an obvious positive. More unexpectedly, Titan has a enough energy resources to support a U.S. population-sized human colony, according to the paper. The moon could allow multiple energy-harnessing options:

Don't pack your bags just yet. For a host of other reasons (including, you know, how we actually get there), Titan isn't ready for human settlers. Though harnessing energy in the ways listed above is not impossible, that doesn't mean it'd be easy. Before we cover other worlds in solar panels, we need perfect it at home.

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