Listen to today's episode of StarDate on the web the same day it airs in high-quality streaming audio without any extra ads or announcements. Choose a $8 one-month pass, or listen every day for a year for just $30.
You are here
Moon and Saturn
Other than Earth, there’s no place in the solar system that says, “there’s life here!” But there are several places that whisper, “there could be life here.”
One of those is Titan, the largest moon of Saturn. Its dense atmosphere and its rocky interior are loaded with the chemical building blocks of life. And the moon probably has a global ocean of liquid water below a thick icy crust. If the different layers get together, then Titan would have the basic ingredients for life.
Titan is about half again the size of our own moon. It’s extremely cold. But its atmosphere is thicker than Earth’s. It’s topped by an orange “smog” made of organic compounds — the chemistry of life. The atmosphere consists of another organic compound, methane, plus a lot of nitrogen that came from organics.
Models of Titan say it has a deep ocean of liquid water buried far below the surface. Impacts by giant space rocks might punch holes in the crust deep enough to allow organics from the surface to reach the ocean. On the other hand, organics might enter the ocean from below — through mineral-rich fountains of hot water like those found on Earth. Either method would provide water, organics, and energy — the basic ingredients for life.
Saturn is close to the upper left of our moon as they climb into good view, by midnight. It looks like a bright star. Titan is visible through good binoculars or a telescope, shining like a tiny star next to the giant planet.
Script by Damond Benningfield