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Steep and Deep Space

posted: 10/11/2002
by Shawn Magee

Whistler? Miniscule. The Alps? Tiny. Compared with Titan, those places look like backyard rope-tow hills. With a skiable acreage about the size of Australia, Titan could be the biggest ski destination in the known universe.

But don't expect to be skiing there any time soon. Titan, a moon orbiting Saturn, is about 930 million miles away. But watch out, sci-fi fans: Travel to Titan isn't just the stuff of Star Trek.In fact, NASA's Cassini satellite, launched in 1994, is expected to reach Titan in 2004. It will remain there for four years, running tests on the moon's atmosphere, which is thought to be similar in pressure to Earth's -- meaning you wouldn't need one of those marshmallowesque pressurized space suits that are all the rage on our own moon.

"The interesting thing about Titan is that, unlike here on Earth, the moisture cycle is likely to be in the form of methane," says Martin Tomasko, research professor at the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory of the University of Arizona in Tucson. "You'd be skiing in methane snow." But with methane's freezing point close to minus 400 degrees Fahrenheit, you'd definitely need to bundle up.

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