Earth-Like Oceans May Hide Alien Life on Saturn's Moon Titan, Cassini Reveals
Having toured the solar system, most notably Saturn and its surrounding moons and rings, for well over a decade, Cassini has helped us gain a far better understanding of a lot of these distant places.
Now, we learn something particularly interesting: The moon of Titan, which orbits Saturn, is more like Earth than anyone had previously thought. Just like our own home planet, it appears that Titan has a large system of oceans that all connect with one another; the only place in the solar system where this is present, apart from Earth.
The discovery was made by a team at Cornell University, who has recently published a paper detailing their findings. Their research involved taking a close look at the data that Cassini transmitted to Earth before its demise, and, in studying the lakes and oceans of Titan, they noticed that the moon has a sea level which is uniform across the entire planet.
On the level: new science results based on Cassini data reveal that—just like on Earth—most liquid on the surface of Saturn's moon Titan lies at an average "sea level." https://t.co/ev1j3E1etV pic.twitter.com/GjijrJC7FS— CassiniSaturn (@CassiniSaturn) January 17, 2018
While all of Titan's oceans seem to have the same sea level, certain lakes are found at a higher elevation, suggesting that, as on Earth, the oceans are all connected to the same aquifer system, as liquid flows freely around the entire moon.
One thing that Titan does not share with Earth is the chemical compound that makes up its liquid oceans. While here on Earth, the sea is made of water, on Titan, these oceans are filled with liquid hydrocarbons, which exhibit different properties (and which mean that Titan wouldn't necessarily be all that easy to colonize after all). Titan does have water, but it exists in icy form—as a moon that's a lot further away from the sun, Titan is a pretty cold place.
Nevertheless, the existence of this Earth-like oceanic system is exciting not just for our exploration of the solar system, but also for the hope that we'll find other worlds with familiar geography dotted throughout the galaxy.
There are questions to be raised as to how similar distant worlds might be to Earth, even if they're the same relative size, and inhabit the so-called "Goldilocks zone" of just-right temperature and distance from their respective stars.
The fact that plenty of other planets and moons throughout the cosmos also play host to liquid oceans means that it's possible we might eventually be able to find Goldilocks planets that also have water cycles like Earth, which would make things a lot easier for life to thrive in their environment.
While there's a lot of debate ongoing at the moment as to the likelihood that alien life exists elsewhere in the universe, the possibility of other oceanic water worlds certainly makes the existence of some form of alien life more likely, if only we can reach out and find them.
Alternatively, even if such worlds don't contain life at present, they'll be perfect for future human colonies to populate, once the environment has been tweaked a little to offer our own preferred mix of breathable gases.
Cassini may be gone now, but the little probe's hard work continues to bring new insights to humanity.
As one of her final parting gifts, Cassini has brought us something truly special: the hope that maybe, just maybe, there might be alien life forms out there on a world just like our own, simply waiting to be discovered.