The 14 reasons why Titan is the best place to colonize beyond Earth

  1. Titan’s surface is protected from harmful solar radiation and galactic cosmic rays thanks to its thick atmosphere…

…unlike Mars, meaning we can live on the surface, not buried underground, and can go out and walk on the surface much more often and for much longer than on Mars, which should help at the psychological level. “You migrate to Mars drawn by its wide-open spaces and find yourself bottled up underground most of the time.”, as Dave Brody eloquently puts in Marrying Mars: Fixing Our Dysfunctional Relationship with the Red Planet

  1. Titan’s thick atmosphere (in the sense of more atoms of gas per cubic meter) also helps protect from micrometeorites….

….even against large meteorites up to several meters across, similar to Earth’s atmosphere (unlike on Mars where micrometeorites reach the ground and can damage habitats).

  1. Surface atmospheric pressure is 1.45 of Earth’s…

….meaning we won’t need to pressurize space suits nor habitats (making building habitats and walking on the surface much more affordable and simple than on Mars).

  1. There is plenty of water available…

….as land is actually made of water ice, not even counting the subsurface water ocean.

  1. There are many ways to get energy…

…including wind, hydropower, solar, chemical (see further below and in Energy Options for Future Humans on Titan, June 2017 ; Titan’s conditions could be just right to power US-sized colony, July 2017)

  1. Oxygen can be made using water and energy.
  1. The water ice surface is covered with organic dust…

….that can be used with energy to create plastic and build plenty of habitats. Low gravity is of further help here to make such plastic buildings practical !

  1. It’s ideal for flight…

….including human powered flight (due to low gravity and thick atmosphere). That will make exploration of Titan way easier than on other bodies. “Because of Titan’s low gravity (it’s about 14 percent of Earth normal) and dense atmosphere, you could jump off a high spot and use your coat to glide down. Hang gliding would take on a whole new meaning,” said astrobiologist Chris McKay.

  1. It’s the easiest one to land on…

…out of the 10 largest bodies with a surface in our Solar System, thanks to its low gravity and thick atmosphere. Conversely, Mars is the worst body where to land in the Solar System due to its rather high gravity and almost absent atmosphere, which got the Curiosity Rover’s landing nicknamed “The 7 Minutes of Terror” (watch that drama here)

  1. Nearby resources (thanks to the 61 other Saturnian moons)
  1. Abundant Fertilizers (there’s so much nitrogen in Titan’s atmosphere that we could use it for fertilizer just as we do here on Earth.)
  1. Possibility to study potential Titan life without the risk of harming it as it would be very different from Earth life, unlike with Mars.

It has been suggested that life could exist in the lakes of liquid methane on Titan, just as organisms on Earth live in water. Such organisms would inhale H2 in place of O2, metabolize it with acetylene (C2H2) instead of glucose (C6H12O6), and exhale methane (CH4) instead of carbon dioxide (CO2) through a process called called hydrogenation. In 2005, astrobiologist Chris McKay argued that if methanogenic life did exist on the surface of Titan, it would likely have a measurable effect on the mixing ratio in the Titan troposphere: levels of hydrogen and acetylene would be measurably lower than otherwise expected, and in 2010, Darrell Strobel, from Johns Hopkins University, identified a greater abundance of molecular hydrogen in the upper atmospheric layers of Titan compared to the lower layers, arguing for a downward flow at a rate of roughly 1028 molecules per second and disappearance of hydrogen near Titan’s surface; as Strobel noted, his findings were in line with the effects McKay had predicted if methanogenic life-forms were present. The same year, another study showed low levels of acetylene on Titan’s surface, which were interpreted by McKay as consistent with the hypothesis of organisms consuming hydrocarbons. NASA researchers have confirmed the existence in Titan’s atmosphere of vinyl cyanide, also known as acrylonitrile. It is an organic compound that could potentially provide the cellular membranes for microbial life to form in Titan’s vast methane oceans. If true, it could prove to us that life can flourish without the ubiquitous H2O. Another key ingredient for life confirmed on Titan : long chains of carbon atoms that may be “universal drivers” for the chemistry that precedes life called a carbon chain anion. It appears to be a catalyst for complicated chemical reactions. (from This weird moon of Saturn has some essential ingredients for life, Aug 2017, Washington Post)

The chance to discover a form of life with a different chemical basis than life on Earth has led some researchers to consider Titan the most important world on which to search for extraterrestrial life. In a paper in the journal Astrobiology, Robert Shapiro, a professor of chemistry at New York University, and Dirk Shulze-Makuch of Washington State University rated Titan a higher-priority target for investigation than even Mars. A National Academy of Sciences study panel concluded that “the environment of Titan meets the absolute requirements for life, which include thermodynamic disequilibrium, abundant carbon-containing molecules and heteroatoms (atoms other than carbon and hydrogen), and a fluid environment…” The panel report further stated that “this makes inescapable the conclusion that if life is an intrinsic property of chemical reactivity, life should exist on Titan.”

Scientists also consider Titan’s subsurface ocean as the prime location where to look for life using liquid water as a solvent, a.k.a. life as we know it, here is NASA’s 5-year plan to study Habitability of Hydrocarbon Worlds: Titan and Beyond 05/2018 where to see a nice illustration of Titan’s different crust layers.

  1. It’s arguably the cheapest place beyond Earth to build a settlement…

…Leaving aside the cost of getting there, which, true, is not small. Titan will be cheaper than anywhere else thanks to the thick atmosphere and not having to pressurize habitats, same for suits to wear to go outside. “We would build large enclosed habitats – and there are no strong winds on the surface at all, only a light breeze, the winds are higher up, and stable geologically – so in the low gravity and with equal pressure inside and out you could paraterraform areas of Titan more easily than anywhere else in the solar system and with all that wind power you have plenty of power for the lighting and to keep it warm. It would be easier to enclose large areas than it is to do that on Earth.” says Robert Walker, Top Writer on Space issues on Quora since 2015.

  1. As a bonus, Titan colonists would be uniquely positioned to enjoy the magic view of a large Saturn…

….which, in Titan’s sky, looks on average approximately 10 times bigger than the Moon for us from Earth. Please note that Titan always shows the same face to Saturn (we say Titan is “tidally locked” to Saturn), so Saturn won’t be seen from all over Titan, but from the places where it can be seen, it will always appear in the same place in the sky. A full Saturn, seen at night from Titan equator, is estimated to be 3 times less bright than a full Moon seen from the Earth.

4 COMMENTS

  1. So your main argument for not landing on Mars was because we might contaminate the surface with extremophile microbes….

    And your main argument for landing on Titan is that we can walk around on the surface. Presumably while spilling microbes around everywhere.

    Consistency is important when reasoning.

    This isn’t a convincing argument,just as the anti-Mars argument wasn’t.

    You can’t base an entire argument on planetary protection and then follow up with a second article that doesn’t even mention contamination.

    • Hi, you’re a bit unfair with me, I mentioned on page 2, points 14 “Possibility to study potential Titan life without the risk of harming it as it would be very different from Earth life” Issue with Mars is that we have many ideas of surface habitats where Earth life could possibly survive and even metabolize, which is a very different situations from Titan where, because of the temperature, -179°C, life would necessary be very different and alien to us. So the risk of contamination isn’t the same at all, we’re talking of 2 different extremes here. See this article :”below -20 °C, single-celled organisms dehydrate, sending them into a vitrified – glass-like – state during which they are unable to complete their life cycle. The researchers propose that, since the organisms cannot reproduce below this temperature, -20 °C is the lowest temperature limit for life on Earth.
      (see https://phys.org/news/2013-08-lowest-temperature-life.html#jCp)

      Also, about back-contamination, “it may seems unlikely that life adjusted to Titan habitats could survive on Earth. The reasoning would be that any life that works at such low temperatures must use much faster reactions than our biochemistry (unless it lives at a glacial pace). So when you warm it up, it’s likely to self destruct.” says Robert Walker

      Titan is currently categorized as “Provisional category II” with “only a remote chance that contamination from Earth could jeopardize future exploration”.

      There category II is the same as our Moon. But it is provisional because they say that more research is needed.

      “Titan would surely be studied robotically first. There are no serious proposals to send humans there right away, unlike Mars. So, unless there is some drive to send humans there quickly, we’d probably answer all those planetary protection questions already before we land humans there, just in the natural course of solar system exploration. If so, and if the results turn out favourable, it may well turn out to be one of the best place for a human colony outside of Earth. It would be a fun place to live in some ways, with the human powered flight, for instance, and the intriguing seas. And it might potentially be a biologists’ paradise if there is indeed native Titan life to study.”

  2. Also, Phobos has significantly lower gravity than Titan, has the lowest altitude libration point in the solar system, meaning that landing there is significantly easier than Titan. Much easier to orbit and stationkeep too.

    Additionally, Mars when viewed from Phobos fills the entire sky. the great view from Titan doesn’t stand up to scrutiny either.

    If anything, Phobos then Mars is the best route (Lockheed Martin agrees).

    Also, just remind us, how long does it take to get to Titan? That’s quite an important point. Surprised it wasn’t addressed in more detail.

    3 or 4 years to Titan is better than 9 months to Mars?

    • I said it was the easiest body to land on…out of the 10 largest bodies with a surface in our Solar System, so not considering Phobos here.

      Defining what’s best is subjective anyway, depends on the criterias. Phobos has no atmosphere so people wuld be exposed to harmful solar and galactic radiations, unlike on Titan, that’s a major issue.

      Distance IS the major issue, I made it clear : age 2? point 13 : “It’s arguably the cheapest place beyond Earth to build a settlement…Leaving aside the cost of getting there, which, true, is not small. Titan will be cheaper than anywhere else thanks to the thick atmosphere and not having to pressurize habitats, same for suits to wear to go outside.”

      Mentioned distance again in the list of objections page 3 : “It’s far, it took 7 years for Cassini-Huygens to reach Titan. Yes, but with faster propulsion, in particular Nuclear Electric Propulsion, it should be possible to shorten the trip to 2 years, maybe even 1 year. Here, I recommend people follow closely Ad Astra’s efforts with their VASIMR engine, the most advanced form of plasma propulsion nearing completion to date, and the Kilopower Project by NASA for the electricity power generation.”

      Anyway, true, we’re doing very long term thinking here 😉 but the outer solar system and even any Earth-MArs economy will only flourish once we have Nuclear Electric Propulsion, and when we do, Titan will become accessible.

      Another objection one could make : what is it with that “planetery chauvinism” as Car Sagan put it ? That is why that obsession with colonizing celestial body when we can make our own freespace colony using matter from the asteroids belt, there’s enough matter there to create thousands of times the surface area of the Earth in habitable space in freespace, in huge rotating stations where to reproduce our gravity, climate, atmospheric pressure, powered with the unlimited energy from the Sun, could be done close to Earth! you can Gerard O’Neill’s THe High Frontier to know mroe about it ! 🙂

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