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How will we terraform Titan?


daniel l.
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It is, in my opinion, almost a certainty that Saturn's largest moon, Titan, will be a major population center in a few centuries from now. It has a suitably thick atmosphere, abundance of natural resources (hydrocarbons and water); and is within close proximity of the resource-rich Saturnian system, which would make it a perfect center of in-system trade, as well as a great refueling outpost for interplanetary spacecraft.
But Titan still isn't 100% habitable. It's air, while similar in composition to ours, is still unable to support human life due to a lack of oxygen. Furthermore, it is so cold that no human being could survive outside the habitat without an outfit that could completely enclose their body and keep them warm -- basically a spacesuit without the need for pressurization. So it's pretty clear that this moon will need terraforming before billions of human colonists can comfortably call it home.
Warming Titan and adding oxygen are comparatively easy -- mirrors or lenses could focus sunlight, surface-built facilities could provide massive amounts of heat via nuclear fusion or the burning of the local hydrocarbons. Oxygen could be added in a myriad of ways -- I can think of a few things; modified lifeforms, artifical factories, etc. The real problem is this: Titan has no land.
Now, it might seem silly of me to say that it has no land when it clearly does -- until the land melts. Titan's surface is entirely composed of a multi-kilometer-thick crust of water ice, which encloses a vast Europa-like subsurface ocean. In other words, Titan is a waterworld waiting to happen. The rocky surface beneath the ocean is simply too far down to be accessible, as it's way beyond the crush depth of any present human-built submarine, even taking into account the lesser gravity.
So, how are we going to terraform this world? Are we just going to melt the entire moon and live in floating "lillipad" cities, anchored to the sea-floor? Or will we only warm it up enough to survive, and accept it as an antarctic world? In the distant future perhaps we'll be able to ship all that water off Titan, exposing the rocky land; but I think that'll be beyond our abilities for the next few centuries unless we exploit the potential can of worms that is self-replicating semi-autonomous machines.
It's a facinating world, ripe with possibility for humanity in the future, and for interesting stories now. What are your ideas?

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because of this  (from wikipedia)

Titan's internal magnetic field is negligible, and perhaps even nonexistent.[25]

and the fact that melting all that ice would probably result is the emission of far too many VOCs,  Titan looks more like a fuel storage container than something to live on. Plus lots of oxygen and heat with that high of percentage of HCs doesn't sound like a good time unless you like singed eyebrows.

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Even if you could terraform Titan it wouldn’t be worth doing. The gravity is too low to even consider it as a colonization target at this point, and even if that wasn’t an issue, you’d have to deal with it being half ice.

Industry? That’s a different story. Colonization? I don’t really see it. There are so many better options...

Although dismantling Titan could provide loads of useful materials.

You want to colonize the Saturn system? Orbital habitats are the best bet.

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My answer would be: "Not at all."

The idea of terraforming other worlds to make them more habitable - especially ones so unlike earth -  is pretty much like the idea of draining the Atlantic ocean to avoid having to use these inconvenient ships. It's a solution that's completely disproportionate to the problem. Adapting to the environment is usually easier than adapting the environment, so instead of trying to heat several quintillion tons of ice we should rather direct our efforts to designing comfortable space suits.

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1 minute ago, Piscator said:

My answer would be: "Not at all."

The idea of terraforming other worlds to make them more habitable - especially ones so unlike earth -  is pretty much like the idea of draining the Atlantic ocean to avoid having to use these inconvenient ships. It's a solution that's completely disproportionate to the problem. Adapting to the environment is usually easier than adapting the environment, so instead of trying to heat several quintillion tons of ice we should rather direct our efforts to designing comfortable space suits.

We like to live a certain way. Other worlds have the advantages of their positions, surroundings, mass, resources, etc. But very few people desire the idea of being forever isolated from a comfortable open-air shirtsleeve environment. A small minority of people could probably stomach the change to an extent, most of us can't; their children would be better adapted, of course, but there's only so much you can tweak about human DNA. If a world cannot support liquid water or provide oxygen to be breathed in some manner, then we cannot live there without technology.

Sure, in the short-term it's nice to do your best with what you've got, but there's no reason why effort couldn't be taken to change an environment over a period of time. Titan could be easily warmed, machine-built mirrors or lenses could focus enough sunlight to dramatically increase the temperature over time. Seeding it with specially-engineered lifeforms could oxygenate the atmosphere.

It wouldn't happen today, or even tomorrow, but I think it will happen. Simply because we're picky creatures and simply can't resist changing things for our own comfort. In the case of a dead world, why not?

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If you're going to sink the time, energy, and resources into terraforming, Mars is pretty much your best chance for a useful return on investment. Titan is pretty much, as others have already mentioned, a hydrocarbon resource depot, along with an excellent place to search for forms of life that don't make use of water-based chemistry.

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54 minutes ago, Bill Phil said:

Even if you could terraform Titan it wouldn’t be worth doing. The gravity is too low to even consider it as a colonization target at this point, and even if that wasn’t an issue, you’d have to deal with it being half ice.

Industry? That’s a different story. Colonization? I don’t really see it. There are so many better options...

Although dismantling Titan could provide loads of useful materials.

You want to colonize the Saturn system? Orbital habitats are the best bet.

I don't see low-g as such a problem. Angled centrifuges could provide higher-g environments within the cities, for example.

the half-ice part is a bigger problem IMO. How do you deal no land? Well, you could sand tiny crawler bots down to the seafloor to collect resources, bring them up and use them to assemble floating cities on the surface of the global-ocean, perhaps anchor the cities to the seafloor with long chains or girders to prevent them drifting off.

You could also simply leave it frozen. Warm the moon up just enough to allow humans to exist more comfortably, perhaps as much as winter temperatures in the Antarctic. This would at least reduce the expense of heating the interiors of the habitats and allow for the use of more conventional materials. Also, it would make surviving outside the domed cities more doable for reasonable periods of time provided you're well-prepared.

I can definitely also see Titan as an industrial powerhouse. But, in my opinion, such merely practical uses for a land area are kind of wasteful. There are two things an orbital habitat cannot provide with known technology:

  1. Natural gravity.
  2. Natural resources.

Both of these are things humans need for long-term survival. Spin gravity is great until something jams the wheel and everyone turns to jelly on the wall. And onboard reserves supplied by trade are fine until a trade is cut off and everyone starves. True long-term inhabitability can only be provided by a planet or moon IMO. Mercury is worth terraforming because of its Mars-level gravity, substantial metals, and near-limitless solar power (you could use a shade, doubling as a solar array, to shield the planet from direct sunlight); Venus because of its Earth-level gravity and sizable resources, etc. Titan provides a weak, but usable gravity well along with a vast amount of accessible rock and metal (something that is relatively rare in the outer planets), which is why in the long run I think it worthy of being made habitable.

After all, hydrocarbons don't last forever. But people will always need a place to live, and they'll probably want it to look nice, too. ;)

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3 hours ago, daniel l. said:

I don't see low-g as such a problem. Angled centrifuges could provide higher-g environments within the cities, for example.

the half-ice part is a bigger problem IMO. How do you deal no land? Well, you could sand tiny crawler bots down to the seafloor to collect resources, bring them up and use them to assemble floating cities on the surface of the global-ocean, perhaps anchor the cities to the seafloor with long chains or girders to prevent them drifting off.

You could also simply leave it frozen. Warm the moon up just enough to allow humans to exist more comfortably, perhaps as much as winter temperatures in the Antarctic. This would at least reduce the expense of heating the interiors of the habitats and allow for the use of more conventional materials. Also, it would make surviving outside the domed cities more doable for reasonable periods of time provided you're well-prepared.

I can definitely also see Titan as an industrial powerhouse. But, in my opinion, such merely practical uses for a land area are kind of wasteful. There are two things an orbital habitat cannot provide with known technology:

  1. Natural gravity.
  2. Natural resources.

Both of these are things humans need for long-term survival. Spin gravity is great until something jams the wheel and everyone turns to jelly on the wall. And onboard reserves supplied by trade are fine until a trade is cut off and everyone starves. True long-term inhabitability can only be provided by a planet or moon IMO. Mercury is worth terraforming because of its Mars-level gravity, substantial metals, and near-limitless solar power (you could use a shade, doubling as a solar array, to shield the planet from direct sunlight); Venus because of its Earth-level gravity and sizable resources, etc. Titan provides a weak, but usable gravity well along with a vast amount of accessible rock and metal (something that is relatively rare in the outer planets), which is why in the long run I think it worthy of being made habitable.

After all, hydrocarbons don't last forever. But people will always need a place to live, and they'll probably want it to look nice, too. ;)

Yes you use centrifuges on the ground however its easier to build rotating habitats in orbit. An ground based centrifuge is useful for people working on the surface but not very practical for general population as you say an spin habitate on the ground can break down or derail, this is not an issue with an space habitat as it can not lock up, even if you have an docking section who don't spin it would simply spin up instead but this is unlikely because no gravity. 

Main issue is that it can not hold an atmosphere if heated up, its hold an atmosphere as its so cold. you have to use domes or caverns and you can not heat it up unlike you can on our moon as it will melt.  

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By the time you have the tech and resources for any sort of terraforming, you would not want to spend them on terraforming when it’s much easier to build habitats in space - in a similar way as, instead of exporting excess population into space, it will always be cheaper to apply the same tech to raise Earth’s population-bearing capacity.

There is no rational reason for a civilization that has mastered living in space to ever go down onto planets. Even if we dimiss the far more accessible resources in asteroids, nobody is going to settle planets - the resources can be extracted by telerobotics, autonomous machines, or slave populations using synthetic biology adapted to the local environment.

Edited by DDE
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21 minutes ago, kerbiloid said:

 

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Night clubs to provide the doctors with work.

 

Biological humans probably won’t survive competition with domestic robots.

We will all be agoraphobic single parent test tube babies in the future.

Edited by DDE
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Even if we ever attempt to terraform Titan... eventually... it will be using technologies and methods we can't even imagine today. You could as well ask XVI century Spanish sailor how he would get to building a thriving settlement on a barren Carribean shore, behind a treacherous reef. He would start cursing laughing at you, because words and idea of "tourist resort" wouldn't even exist for him.

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7 minutes ago, Scotius said:

Even if we ever attempt to terraform Titan... eventually... it will be using technologies and methods we can't even imagine today. You could as well ask XVI century Spanish sailor how he would get to building a thriving settlement on a barren Carribean shore, behind a treacherous reef. He would start cursing laughing at you, because words and idea of "tourist resort" wouldn't even exist for him.

I greatly dislike this sort of agnosticism. We know the more basic options, namely the physical and chemical processes that would ensue; engineering solutions are secondary.

The concept of “thriving settlement” would not be alien to that sailor. The rest would require certain logical deliberations, but would not be incomprehensible.

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Guys, there is absolutely no scientific base to assume we would "terraform" any planet with foreseeable tech. We have discussed this so often that i find it hard to see a point in doing this again. We cannot even raise the atmospheric pressure on Mars by remarkable levels, as has been shown with some scientific background.

We can, of course, express our fantasies on the matter.

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Well, Titan is pretty cold. So I would assume all industrial engines utilizing heat will work more efficiently. (More the temperature difference, more is the maximum possible efficiency, look up Carnot Efficiency) Thus, I would assume automated industries will be all the rage at Titan

It has a very low gravity, similar to that of our Moon, so we could build a space tether from Titan's surface to orbit, by using graphene ropes. Graphene that we will purchase from Venus! Rocket fuelwill be mined from Titan surface and will be used to explore and colonize the rest of Saturnian moons! Make Saturn the 'Terraforming Center' of the solar system, by scooping up megatons of hydrogen from Saturn's atmosphere and shooting it to Venus, which badly needs the stuff, and using Nitrogen from Titan's atmosphere and flinging it to Mars, which needs tons of this gas if we want the Martian atmosphere to be earthlike

In a reality where we are not able to go back on the Moon, this seems pretty unlikely however..

(but Imaginationland is a beautiful place....)

EDIT: Oh, and of course, there's the Landauer Limit, that's the theoretical maximum limit for classic computing efficiency. Half the temperature, double the maximum computations for the same amount of energy. In the Saturnian system, if you manage to find a lot of silicon,  you could make processors and other stuff and use those computers on the surface of Titan and thus making the largest and the most powerful supercomputer ever built by Mankind. I dunno, maybe upload a super intelligent AI and make Ultron? That would be *cool* ;)

Edited by Nivee~
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1 hour ago, Nivee~ said:

Rocket fuelwill be mined from Titan surface and will be used to explore and colonize the rest of Saturnian moons! 

Methane is a suboptimal choice, especially for more advanced propulsion methods.

1 hour ago, Nivee~ said:

Graphene that we will purchase from Venus!

And now it’s clear that you’ve leapt over the crucial first step.

giphy.gif

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1 hour ago, DDE said:

Methane is a suboptimal choice, especially for more advanced propulsion methods.

Not really, since we are just exploring the Saturnian system. NTRs using methane as propellant would be useful for high energy Hohmann transfer between (The highest delta v requirement  would be from Epithemius to Titan about 9000 m/s, but that's assuming all-propulsive methods but you could aerobrake at Titan). There might be issues, but they will be trivial. Even chemical rockets could be used to transport supplies from one Saturnian moon to another. Travel time will be in the order of days, but it won't matter since we will mostly be transferring cargo with the occasional Human.. (And I doubt they will be using Advanced and fast propulsion methods to transport anything but the most crucial cargo.(read: Humans))

1 hour ago, DDE said:

And now it’s clear that you’ve leapt over the crucial first step.

"Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could do that they didn't stop to think if they should."

Oh? And why shouldn't we? I think it could be a nice trade between Saturn and Venus. Saturn will sell hydrogen to Venus, and buy it's graphene.. 

Edited by Nivee~
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43 minutes ago, Nivee~ said:

And why shouldn't we?

Because if there’s no-one to buy at either point, or there are cheaper places to buy, there won’t be a trade.

Are we still in the “Science and Spaceflight” forum?

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3 hours ago, Green Baron said:

Guys, there is absolutely no scientific base to assume we would "terraform" any planet with foreseeable tech. We have discussed this so often that i find it hard to see a point in doing this again. We cannot even raise the atmospheric pressure on Mars by remarkable levels, as has been shown with some scientific background.

So, let me please again suggest the idea with teleportal valves connecting the celestial bodies.
One may count it as a fantasy, but this forum dsicussions have made me to believe that this is the only realistic option to terraform a bunch of significant celestial bodies of the Solar System.

Of course we can't do this right now, and have no idea how to do that at all.
But imho yet nobody has suggested something less unrealistic.

Edited by kerbiloid
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Well, you'd need mirrors to concentrate sunlight on Titan. Lot's of mirrors. And they would need to be permanent. You could probably set them up in a way that mimics a day/night cycle. However, terraforming it would turn it to a water world, and release all of its methane as gas - which we'd probably need to take out. And if it turns out Titan has it's own native life, we may not even terraform it, and use it as a research outpost among other things.

This would take an industrial scale around Saturn we don't even have around the Earth/Moon yet, and a timeline of hundreds to thousands of years. Once terraformed, the only thing we could do is build floating cities, and given how much of Titan is made of water, the oceans may be too deep to extract useful resources from it. So a low gravity water world would most likely just be a place to live/resort for people around Saturn/outer solar system. Also, you'd be removing the advantage of having a massive computational system on Titan - which has been discussed in Isaac Arthur's video - as well as the potential for an industrial base.

Being here for a while, and reading up on what may be likely to happen as we colonize the solar system - the future will probably be filled with people living in habitats around orbital rings/space elevators, getting their resources from whichever body they're around, maybe with small groups living on the surface for whichever reason.

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Just to point out, there are exactly three places in the solar system that you can find free nitrogen:

Earth

Venus

Titan

If you're going to build habitats for people, or terraform planets, you need that nitrogen. We obviously don't want to take nitrogen from earth, so Titan would be exporting nitrogen to the entire outer solar system. The methane is nice for plastics, but not the most valuable resource there. 

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