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This is a drawing of the Galileo probe exploring the environment of Jupiter.
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Image from: The Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Can there be Life in the Environment of Titan?

Titan's atmosphere is a lot like the Earth's, except that it is very cold, from -330 degrees to -290 degrees! Like the Earth, there is a lot of Nitrogen and other complex molecules. There also may be an ocean of methane, or perhaps a liquid water layer inside the moon. Except for the cold, these signs would be favorable for some sort of life. Some creatures on Earth are known to live in an environment of very cold water.

In the atmosphere there are layers of clouds composed of complex molecules such as methane. Moreover there is energy from ultraviolet light, and the charged particles of the magnetosphere. This type of environment, aside from the cold, is the kind of environment in which scientists think life began.

Overall, the environment sounds unfriendly to life as we know it on earth, because of the cold. Since not much is known about the moon Titan, up close exploration of this moon, with a probe, as shown in this drawing, would help scientists better understand if life could survive there.

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A Comparison of Saturn's Icy Moons, and the Earth's Moon

This is an image of the Earth's moon, shown in the lower left, with the much smaller icy moons of Saturn. The moons in order, starting from the top left are: Mimas, Enceladus, Tethys, Dione, Rhea, and...more

Dione

Dione was discovered by G. Cassini in 1684. Dione is the 7th farthest moon from Saturn, with a standoff distance of 377,400 km. It is a small icy moon, lightly cratered, with wispy white streaks across...more

The Surface of Dione

The surface of Dione does not have many craters. Instead it has wispy white streaks similar to those found on Rhea extending for many kilometers over the entire surface. These two things indicate that...more

The Surface of Enceladus

The surface of Enceladus does not have many craters. Instead it has grooves similar to those found on Ganymede. These grooves extend for many kilometers over the surface. The presence of grooves indicates...more

Helene

Helene was discovered by the French astronomers Pierre Laques, Raymond Despiau and J. Lecacheux on February 29, 1980. Even though Helene is so far away, they were able to make their discovery at an observatory...more

Hyperion

Hyperion was discovered by W. Bond in 1848. Hyperion is the 3rd farthest moon from Saturn, with a standoff distance of 1,481,000 km. Hyperion is 175 x 100 km (117 x 67 miles) in size. Its dimensions make...more

Rhea

Rhea was discovered by G. Cassini in 1672. Rhea is the 5th farthest moon from Saturn. It is one of the icy moons, similar to the Galilean satellites. Rhea is about as wide as the state of California is...more

The Surface of Rhea

The surface of Rhea is typical of an icy moon. Rhea is as heavily cratered (despite the appearance of this picture) as Saturn's "death star" moon Mimas on its leading side. Its trailing side has unusual...more

Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA