Saturn’s Moon Titan: Owner’s Workshop Manual by Ralph Lorenz (book review).

It would seem odd to select a moon, other than our own Moon which has been done by Haynes, as a book subject. That is until you read the introduction and realise that Titan is bigger than our Moon, has a dense atmosphere and one of the unique celestial bodies in the Solar System. I should also point out that author Ralph Lorenz played a central role in the creation of the Dragonfly on its way to Mars and that will be sent to Titan in 2026, taking 8 years to get to Saturn’s largest moon.

The discovery of Saturn and its rings and Titan itself is down to Christiaan Huygens in 1665. The discovery that Titan had an atmosphere by Gerard Kuiper in 1944 was by how light was diffracted than if it was a vacuous rock. However, I think what was most startling was a comparison of the largest moons in the Solar System and seeing Titan is bigger than our own Moon. Then again, three moons of Jupiter are larger as well. It’s a pity that Pluto wasn’t included in the comparison because it would surely have enforced the fact it really is a minor planet.

The Huygens landing in 2004 revealed traces of water on Titan’s surface so it’s understandable why this follow-up mission is looking for signs of life, dead or alive. For those who don’t know, the length of time between missions is more to do with planetary alignment and, even then, it’s still an 8 year flight to Saturn.

Rather interestingly, there is a lot of comparisons on geology and physics on Titan and certain features of Earth. When you look at the pictures taken by the Huygens probe, it isn’t that you’re looking at an alien world but a need to recognise what you are looking at. Even though there are different compounds like methane and other gases, mostly in a frozen state, they do create comparable lakes, dunes and so forth. Like our Moon, Titan does keep one side facing Saturn all the time. What is also interesting is that Titan is also free of Saturn’s magnetosphere so not subject to the radiations the planet emits.

There’s a chapter on the Dragonfly that will be flying over Titan and how it will travel further than any land transport. Even so, the flight regime is to look at two future destinations at a time and have assessment as to how safe it is to land there before going back. The possibility of sending a submersible to explore Titan’s oceans should be interesting although I do wonder how, where and when it can surface to send messages back to Earth.

Certainly the look at the possibility of life on Titan should be of interest to all of us here and a useful chapter if you’re going to base a story there. Interestingly, there are several references to SF novels that have already used Titan as a base. Even so, I would have to wonder how many of them will be valid with new discoveries found there.

Although it was pointed out at the beginning of the book about the various choice of names for places on Titan was to give a range from across our world, the fictional choices are from Frank Herbert’s ‘Dune’ and JRR Tolkien’s ‘Lord Of The Rings’ as well as Norse and Greek mythology were surprising.

I have to confess I didn’t know that much about Titan when I started reading this book. After completing it, my knowledge of alien geology and chemistry was extended and an insight into what the specialists are looking for has made this a useful book. Can’t wait for the trip.

GF Willmetts

September 2020

(pub: Haynes, 2020. 196 page large hardback. Price: £26.00 (UK), $36.95 (US), $43.95 (CAN). ISBN: 978-1-78521-643-5)

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Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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