6
$\begingroup$

I'm interested in what kind of events / processes would it take to make Titan's atmosphere more or less transparent.

The year is around 2150. The technology has progressed, sure, but it's nowhere near the point where people could toss around planets between orbits, or terraform them as they wish in a matter of years. This change, however, may be due to some unintended runaway reaction.

I'm aware of this question, which may seem similar but asks about constructing a new planet, rather than changing the Titan itself.

The accepted answer on that question also mentions more useful details:

The orange color as seen from space must be produced by other more complex chemicals in small quantities, possibly tholins, tar-like organic precipitates. The hydrocarbons are thought to form in Titan's upper atmosphere in reactions resulting from the breakup of methane by the Sun's ultraviolet light, producing a thick orange smog.

With that in mind, here are requirements for the solution I'm looking for:

  • Transparent means enough to see the Sun and Saturn through. Stars aren't necessary, but more is better.
  • Clouds or some amount of haze are okay, as long as first point is true.
  • Atmosphere doesn't need to be stable in this state. Over time, it can dissipate, become colder or hotter, revert back to original state. I want it to maintain some kind of transparency for 3-5 years.
  • The resulting makeup of atmosphere doesn't matter either, as long as it lets through enough visible light.
  • Since the Sun and the Saturn are mentioned, it shouldn't require their total destruction.
  • Earth and Mars shouldn't be made completely uninhabitable (as in Venus uninhabitable, or worse).

The solution doesn't need very hard-scienc-ey. It's alright to go for improbable, yet theoretically possible scenarios, and to resort to some assumptions about minute details of such process. What I want here is to avoid full-on handwaving away using some amazing unearthed alien artifacts, or just a completely unexplained change.

Edit: Added two more points for clarification.

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ Titan itself doesn't have a magnetic field. It's atmosphere is protected by Saturn's magnetosphere. However, in case of very strong solar winds, the magnetosphere gets bent leaving Titan vulnerable. Thus, a small amount of it's atmosphere gets blown into space. In theory, get rid of Saturns magnetosphere and you'll expose it to constant solar winds blowing away the atmosphere. However, whether a weakening of the magnetosphere is possible at all and if the effects would be visible after a time period of a mere 120 years, not to mention any side effects, definitely needs further research. $\endgroup$ – Otto Abnormalverbraucher Oct 4 '18 at 13:37
  • $\begingroup$ Indeed, I suspect it would take one hell of a barrage by solar winds - or rather, immensely powerful flares - to strip Titan of enough of its atmosphere over 150 (maximum) years. Considering it took many millions of years for Mars - which is much closer to the Sun - to lose its own, I suspect that "flares" needed to blow away good portion of Titan's atmosphere would be catastrophic to the Sun itself. $\endgroup$ – tlaik Oct 4 '18 at 13:51
  • $\begingroup$ Well, you do have to take into account that Mars is almost five times more massive than Titan and his gravitational force almost three times as high. Thus Mars' atmosphere needed more force to strip it off. I'd still expect a duration in a magnitude of millions of years. If you want it to reduce naturally I'd suppose a collision with another large object could suffice. Maybe in combination with a very strong solar wind bending Saturn's magnetosphere and thus blowing away the gases and a lot of the junk now dropping into Saturn. $\endgroup$ – Otto Abnormalverbraucher Oct 4 '18 at 16:35
1
$\begingroup$

Wash clean.

  1. A comet hits Titan. Actually the comet breaks up on entering the atmosphere, depositing a large amount of liquid water into the atmosphere, which becomes much more hazy.

  2. The same energetic upper atmosphere processes driving the generation of the orange tholins act to split water into hydrogen and oxygen.

  3. Some free oxygen recombines with hydrogen and reforms water. A lot of the liberated oxygen reacts with the hydrocarbon tholins, oxidizing them to smaller and more volatile molecules - and ultimately to CO2. Dust from the comet acts as a catalytic surface, facilitating this.

  4. Within a few years much of the tholin load of the atmosphere has oxidized away.

  5. Once the water has been used up, the tholins will gradually reform from surface methane.

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ This is going in line with what I've been thinking about. A large impact like this would also melt a good amount of water ice on and beneath the surface. I might have to tone down my narrative, describing local change powered by large rising vapor currents, coming from water introduced by such comet and melting ice around the area of impact, making sky clearer through described reaction and plain old convection, driving away older upper layers of atmosphere. Maybe even a small cyclone would form! This wouldn't last forever as everything starts to cool down, but that's fine by me. Thanks! $\endgroup$ – tlaik Oct 18 '18 at 13:10
  • $\begingroup$ Is there water ice on Titan? I thought there was no water. $\endgroup$ – Willk Oct 18 '18 at 16:13
  • $\begingroup$ Oh, most definitely. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Titan_(moon) "The density of Titan is consistent with a body that is about 60% rock and 40% water" "Pre-Cassini models of impact trajectories and angles suggest that where the impactor strikes the water ice crust, a small amount of ejecta remains as liquid water within the crater. It may persist as liquid for centuries or longer" "Current understanding is that the hills (also referred to as highlands) are composed mainly of water ice" So Titan seems to be pretty much good old water ice all over under its lakes. $\endgroup$ – tlaik Oct 19 '18 at 12:01
  • $\begingroup$ very cool! Vacation on Titan became less intimidating. I will bring my skates. $\endgroup$ – Willk Oct 19 '18 at 12:39

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.