Titan as an analog of Earth’s past and future
J. I. Lunine
Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, The University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721, USA
Corresponding author: firstname.lastname@example.org
Published online: 25 February 2009
Titan, the second-largest moon in the solar system, is revealed by the joint ESA-NASA mission Cassini-Huygens to have a dense atmosphere of nitrogen and methane, lakes and seas of liquid methane and ethane, evidence for ﬂuvial (river-based) erosion, and vast equatorial expanses of dunes made of organic material. It also has an ocean, probably mostly of water, beneath its icy crust. The presence of organic material and episodes of melting of the icy crust or breaching to reveal the ocean beneath provides the possibility of chemistry replicating that leading to the origin of life, on scales of time and space much larger than can be achieved in the laboratory. In this sense Titan may replicate aspects of Earth’s past. But the methane cycle, which operates in the absence of a massive ocean covering Titan’s surface, more resembles the kind of hydrological cycle Earth might have in the far future as the brightness of the Sun increases and water begins to escape rapidly.
© EDP Sciences, 2009