spaceSpace and Physics

Saturn's Moon Titan Could Support A Huge Human Colony


Jonathan O'Callaghan

Senior Staff Writer

A mosaic of Titan, seen by Cassini. NASA/JPL-Caltech

Mars gets a lot of press when we talk about colonizing another world. But it seems that Saturn’s moon Titan may also be a pretty good bet.

A study to be published in the Journal of Astrobiology and Outreach and available on arXiv proposes just that. It could have enough energy reserves to support a colony with a population of about 300 million people, similar to that in the US, reports New Scientist.


“Saturn’s moon Titan is the optimal location in the solar system for an off-Earth human settlement,” the researchers, Amanda Hendrix from the Planetary Science Institute in Arizona and Yuk Yung from Caltech in California, write in their paper.

“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.”

In their paper, the researchers point out a number of different energy sources that could support a human colony. These include nuclear, chemical, hydropower, wind, and even solar.

Nuclear is already employed on deep space probes, notably using the decade of plutonium-238. This could be a viable power source for a colony on Titan, with a half-life of 88 years. An abundance of methane on Titan, which has lakes and seas of liquid hydrocarbons, could also be incredibly useful.


These bodies of liquids could also be used for hydropower. Although the other day we learned Titan’s waves are just 1 centimeter (0.4 inches) high, the researchers say that creating a system to make fluid run downhill could provide a reasonable amount of power.

Getting the most out of wind would involve going to a higher altitude. On the surface the wind speeds are minimal, but at an altitude of 40 kilometers (25 miles), they rise to 20 meters (65 feet) per second. “Tethered balloon or blimp-borne power-generating windmills could be feasible to access these higher wind speeds for greater energy generation, on the order of hundreds of MW [megawatts],” the researchers write.

Perhaps most intriguing of all is solar power, however. Despite Titan being 10 times further from the Sun than Earth, the team note that advances in solar cell technology make solar power still a viable option. To support a colony the size of the US in population, 10 percent of Titan’s surface would need to be covered in solar panels. On Earth, the same amount of energy could be generated by an area 10 percent the size of Kansas.

“Titan’s natural resources present several options for useful energy sources for future visitors (or colonists/settlers) to the moon,” the researchers conclude. Maybe one day we will indeed live off the land on this distant world.


(H/T: New Scientist)


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