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Cassini Scientist for a Day -- Fall 2009 Winners
Target 3: Titan, Grade 9 to 12

Cassini Scientist for a Day -- Fall 2009 Winners
Target 3: Titan, Grade 9 to 12


Valerie Baretsky
Titan
Titan
Valerie Baretsky

10th Grade
Fairport High School
Teacher: Gene Gordon (physics teacher)
Fairport, N.Y.


"I believe that Titan is the best choice for the target of Cassini's mission. I think this for many reasons, among them Titan's similarity to Earth. This moon is among the most Earth-like bodies we've found. It bears a great resemblance to the Earth several billion years ago. Therefore, studying it could not only allow us to learn more about Titan, but also about the history of our own planet. For example, it could show us how our atmosphere has evolved since before life existed.

Another thing this mission could teach us is the structure of Titan's interior. It is currently believed that there is an internal ocean, filled with liquid ammonia and water, about 100 kilometers below the surface. This mission could tell us whether this is truly the case and what else is hidden beneath the surface. It would also tell us about the structure of the crust like its mass distribution. There may be tectonic forces at work on Titan, but we have yet to find proof of this. This mission could supply that proof as well as insight into how these forces function.

The Cassini Equinox Mission would give us the opportunity to learn more about Titan's surface. We could study the topography of the land in greater detail. This would include learning more about the methane lakes in terms of age, composition, and distribution. We may even learn how the lake basins were formed. We could analyze the distribution of surface temperature and clouds. This would allow us to learn more about Titan's weather patterns, and perhaps those of primitive Earth. This mission would also allow for the observation of winds both on the surface and in the troposphere. We may also find evidence of active cryovolcanoes, which spew water instead of lava. We could learn more about these volcanoes and if they are replenishing the atmosphere's methane as it is lost to space.

During this mission, spring will be coming to Titan's northern hemisphere. This makes the Cassini Equinox Mission the perfect opportunity to examine the effects seasonal change has on Titan. For example, we could see the seasonal changes in Titan's methane-hydrocarbon hydrological cycle. We may be able to watch new methane lakes form or observe the evaporation of existing lakes if we take this opportunity to study Titan. We could also determine the effects of the seasons on the high-latitude atmosphere. This allows us to study the change in temperature brought about by the coming of spring. We may even have the opportunity to observe the breakdown of Titan's winter polar vortex. This could be our only chance to watch the deterioration of this large-scale cyclone. We could also study the effects of Saturn's magnetodisk on Titan as it travels from south to north.

Studying Titan could lead to these discoveries and many more. This mission would bring us one step closer to understanding the solar system and our place in it."