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International Edition Winners 2009: China (Senior Undergraduate)

International Edition Winners 2009: China (Senior Undergraduate)


Xiaoye Han
Titan
Titan
Xiaoye Han

Senior Undergraduate; Beihang University (Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics)

Beijing, China



"My name is Xiaoye Han. Personally, I think target number three is the best choice.

The most important reason that I adhere to target three is that Titan resembles Earth several billion years ago. With the help of Cassini's cameras at Titan, we here can have a great opportunity to observe this mysterious world to figure out whether it is another Earth with creatures.

By reading papers and scientific news, I learn that as the largest of Saturn's moons--much larger than our own moon, larger even than the planet Mercury--Titan has several striking similarities with Earth. Images of Saturn's moon Titan reveal dunes, hills, valleys and rivers that scientist say look a lot like home.

Such a homelike Titan should bring certain concern. Titan is the only moon in the solar system to have a dense atmosphere with thin layers of methane and nitrogen clouds--a setup similar to that of early Earth. Scientists thus speculated that lakes or even oceans of methane might exist on, or just beneath, the moon's icy surface and that evaporation from these liquid bodies was replenishing the atmosphere.

Differences between Titan and Earth should also be paid great attention. Unlike Earth's clouds, which contain mostly water vapor, the Titan clouds are thought to consist of ethane, methane and other organics. Scientists had predicted the existence of such a cloud system, but had no exact image proves. On Titan, which is frigid and shrouded in smog, the features are likely carved in ice rather than solid ground.

Titan has none of the requirements we need everyday such as liquid water from the observation till now, but through analogue chemistry non-aqueous life might arise. Above all, I see great need for scientists to take a closer look at Titan. The implementation of target number three will enable us to focus on understanding Titan as an analogue for pre-biotic Earth. In this way, scientists may successfully infer that life may exist on Titan even today!

As for the concern of occlusion of atmosphere and clouds above Titan, there is no need to bother. I strongly believe that we have the ability to observe Titan with positional precision, despite the unfavorable conditions. After overcoming the deficiencies of previous image-processing techniques, novel techniques based on the edge-detection of Saturn’s ring is developed to precisely measure Saturn's position. Furthermore, the scattering light of Saturn and its ring is removed effectively based on its center symmetry. In other words, we now have much more opportunities to accurately measure the positions of satellites very close to the Saturn. Closely observation and attention to Titan will certainly bring great impetus to the further development of Space Science.

If we choose choice three with the target of Titan, more precise observation and deeper researches will be made, in which way the possibility for life on Titan will be informed. Isn’t that exacting?"