Saturn

Who Knew Saturn Had Earth-Like Moons?

I’m at the tail end of drafting Aliens Watch, seventh novel in the Other Worldly series, and as it always seems to happen, I ran into a bit of connected serendipity while researching the next planet protagonist Rowan Layne will visit. Saturn—otherwise known as Cultura to extraterrestrials in my novels.

One of the subjects of Aliens Watch is giants (including humans and aliens), as well as Bigfoot or Sasquatch, and I will offer my own creative take on this supposed mythological creature’s purpose for roaming Earth. Hence, Rowan will herself research the subject of giants to learn that in ancient Greek  mythology, Titans were giants.

As I looked up facts about Saturn in preparation to possibly have Rowan visit not just the planet, but perhaps one of its moons, I discovered Saturn has a whopping 146 moons in its orbit, of which the largest is named Titan. Titan is bigger than the planet Mercury and second in size in our solar system only to Jupiter’s moon Ganymede.

And that’s not all. The sixth-largest of Saturn’s moons is roughly the size of Arizona and named Enceladus after yet another giant in Greek mythology.  When I learned both of these moons were named for giants, I realized Rowan was going to have to go to both. Because she herself would consider it downright uncanny, given her recent experiences.

Plus, the other cool thing I learned about both of these moons fits right in with my attempts to use actual science in my fantasy fictional tales. Who knew these two moons, Titan and Enceladus, were the very places in our solar system that Earth’s scientists postulate are most likely to have the ability to harbor life due to some Earth-like characteristics?

Here’s why. Titan is the only moon in our entire solar system with a substantial atmosphere, which, like Earth, is made mostly of nitrogen. Titan has clouds and rain and is the only place besides Earth known to have liquids in the form of rivers, lakes, and seas on its surface. Its largest seas are hundreds of feet deep and hundreds of miles wide and, according to scientists, “could easily harbor life that uses different chemistry than we’re used to.”

In fact, Titan is in some ways one of the most hospitable worlds in our solar system because its nitrogen atmosphere is so dense that a human wouldn’t need a pressure suit to walk around on its surface. One would only need an oxygen mask and protection against the cold. These are the kind of titillating factual tidbits perfect for a writer getting ready to send humans to Saturn in a tale deemed science fiction yet grounded in reality.

As for Enceladus, in 2006 the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft mission observed a series of cloud formations in its northern latitudes nicknamed  the string of pearls. Not only that, it was discovered that giant plumes of water vapor spew from deep fractures on Enceladus’ surface, nicknamed tiger stripes, located near its south pole. The plumes are caused by Saturn’s gravity, which squeezes Enceladus’ interior, injecting energy to keep water liquid in its global ocean, and periodically spurting some of that water through surface fractures. It’s been described as like squeezing water out of a bottle. Fascinating.

Even better, organic molecules have been determined to exist in Enceladus’ ocean as a result of these plumes, which cause snow that falls back onto the moon’s surface. Consequently, Enceladus has all of the ingredients necessary for a potentially habitable environment: liquid water, organic molecules, and chemical energy to fuel life.

Sometimes reality transcends fantasy and we as writers don’t have to stretch the bounds of credulity to make stuff up—and make it fun. Because water conservation and preservation on Earth as a life-sustaining resource is also a focus of Aliens Watch.

One other unexpected connection derives from yet another of Saturn’s moons called Janus. Janus just happens to be the name of one of the alien Red Orbiter triplets featured in the Other Worldly series. When I named this character introduced in book three, Aliens Abound, I knew Janus was an ancient Roman god. But I did not know Janus was also the name of one of Saturn’s moons.

The character Janus—and boy howdy is she a character at aged ten going on twenty—will be on the trip to Saturn with Rowan, along with Janus’ two brothers and her hell-on-wheels sextuplet cousins. The nine alien kiddos are always good for some comedic fodder, and my guess is Janus will insist on also visiting the moon that shares her name. Look out, solar system!

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