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International Edition Winners 2010: New Zealand, 2nd place

International Edition Winners 2010: New Zealand, 2nd place



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Titan and Tethys
Jacob Neville-Smith
Danyon Lee Wells
Katherine Elenore Gibson



Year 10 (NZ)
Teacher Advisor: Bonita Menezes
Green Bay high School

Auckland, New Zealand



"Following intense research, we have come to the conclusion that the best target for a flyby by Cassini is Titan. We have reached this conclusion based on a number of reasons. These include: the possibility of early life on the surface of Titan, its unique atmosphere, and the large amount of hydrocarbons on Titan's surface.

Perhaps of most importance to science, is the possibility of life on Titan. Titan has a large variety of organic compounds that are considered necessary for life formation. A flyby of the Cassini probe may be able to reveal conclusively whether or not Titan has any amino acids, or even nucleotides out of which life as we know it could have arisen.

However, due to lack of understanding in this particular field of science, it's entirely possible that we could find new types of life forms that are not carbon-based, as we are. Indeed, there is already evidence pointing towards the presence of life on Titan. This evidence consists of the discovery that hydrogen flows down in the atmosphere of Titan before disappearing. This points towards the possibility of Hydrogen-breathing life. An absence of acetylene has also been discovered, a chemical which should be present on the moons surface and could be used as a potential food source for methane-drinking organisms. A flyby of Titan could confirm this, or at least provide more evidence for it.

Even to find proto-life or complex organic molecules such as protobionts would be a step in the right direction for science. If such organic molecules are detected, it could shed light on how life on Earth arose. If we discover simple life on Titan, or indications of it, it will have a profound effect on our understanding of the formation of life.

Titan is the only moon that has an atmosphere and Earth-like weather systems. The atmosphere is made up of 98.4% nitrogen, 1.4% methane and a small percentage of hydrogen. Titan could help us to better understand the formation of our own atmosphere because of its similarity. It may show scientists what Earth's atmosphere is thought to have been like before photosynthetic life forms developed. This means that with the introduction of photosynthetic life forms, Titan could possibly be terra-formed in the future.
Until 2004, Titan's dense atmosphere prevented much understanding of its surface. However, following previous flybys by Cassini and the landing of the Huygens probe, we now know that the surface of Titan is covered with easily accessible hydrocarbons. These hydrocarbons could be useful in refuelling space exploration vehicles, should a platform be established upon Titan in the future. This is of secondary interest as it is not likely that we shall reach Titan (in manned spacecraft) for at least a century.

There is a vast amount of information that we could receive from studying chemistry on Titan. For this and all of the above reasons, we believe Titan is the best choice for the Cassini probe to fly by."