Friday, September 20, 2013

BBC Documentary "Titan: A Place Like Home" is most complete look ever of Saturn's earthy moon

YouTube was good enough to flash before me the BBC “Horizon Series” documentary, “Titan: A Place Like Home,” written and directed by Paul Olding, 48 minutes.\
It’s posted on YouTube by Documentary Channel.
The film appears to have aired first in January 2013, and the BBC link is here
The first two-thirds of the film deals with the technical challenge faced by NASA and the ESA in getting Cassini, which incorporated the actual Titan landing craft called Huygens, to the largest moon of Saturn, and the only satellite in the Solar System with a significant atmosphere.  Wikipedia gives the history, from the 1997 launch of Cassini-Huygens to the Saturn Rings transit and Titan landing in January 2005, here. The NASA staff had to reprogram the signals because of a timing problem, and then had trouble getting half of the signals during the landing.
Still, the images that NASA got were riveting. The BBC film shows images that are more detailed than ever seen before in film.   There are many artists’ renditions of the dusky orange landscape that a visitor would seen, again, more than ever seen in a commercial film.  There are methane rains with flooding into lakes and rivers;  there is a sanding surface but cyrovolcanoes of water ice.   The surface shows erosion much as would Earth’s.

I see that PBS and the History Channel have given some footage of Titan before, particularly in 2011 (“Astronomy” label): BBC had a short (6 minutes) on Titan in March 2011.

Titan has all the ingredients for life to evolve, but it may be simply too cold.  But maybe self-replicating organic chemistry can evolve there -- the thiols are a good clue. There bay be a subterranean ocean under the ice under much or all of the surface (as with Europa). 
I have a screenplay named “69 Minutes to Titan”, based on the idea that at closed approach, that’s about how long it would take light to reach it (check here) .  Normally it can take several hours.  In my screenplay, a protagonist meets a precocious teen, who may be an angel for another planet, and gets into trouble, but before finding out that “angels” have set up an outpost on Titan. 

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