Follow this link to skip to the main content

2014 Essay Contest: Winner, Target 2, Grade 7 - 8

2014 Essay Contest: Winner, Target 2, Grade 7 - 8

Nidhi Nagireddy
Target 2, Titan
Nidhi Nagireddy

Rocky Run Middle School
7th Grade
Chantilly, Virginia

Teacher: Sridevi Settipalli

"As a scientist, I would be hard pressed to choose between studying Saturn’s F Ring, Titan’s northern polar region, or the hurricane at Saturn’s north pole with all three options being intriguing subjects of study. But with Cassini, which arrived in the Saturnian system in 2004, only having around 4% of its maneuvering propellant left to burn, we have to choose wisely.

While Saturn’s F Ring fascinates as a “shape shifter”, constantly influenced by the gravitational pull of the mischievous Prometheus and Pandora, I believe we have sufficient knowledge of the phenomenon and should look elsewhere to maximize Cassini’s observations. Saturn’s north pole has finally emerged from its long winter and the first views since those provided by NASAs Voyager 2 have revealed a weather phenomenon that has become as iconic as Jupiter’s Great Red Spot. While the spectacular storm and its hexagonal vortex will provide unique opportunities to study weather that is uninfluenced by landforms, unlike on Earth, I believe pursuing the new sunlit views of Titan’s northern polar region, where most of Titan’s lakes are found, will be far more fruitful for a number of reasons.

Titan’s weather and surface processes are most like those on Earth with methane playing the role of water. Cassini has provided fascinating evidence of complex interactions of various liquids and deposits from evaporation of lakes and seas. Data from Cassini’s Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer provided the only evidence of waves outside of Earth!! Studying the primordial weather phenomenon on Titan’s lakes can help us better understand how Earth’s own atmosphere has evolved.
Titan’s northern polar lakes are rich in methane and complex organic compounds – a condition that has always held the promise of the evolution of biological forms. While scientists expect that any life on Titan may need to be non water based, data from Cassini indicated underground liquid water ocean – making life as we know it a possibility on Titan!!

Another exciting discovery, after mapping only 20% of Titan’s surface, has been the vast reserves of energy sources on Titan. Individual lakes on Titan appear to contain the equivalent of the entire supply of natural gas on Earth and dark dunes around Titan’s equatorial regions contain organic matter that far exceeds terrestrial coal reserves. Understanding the chemical and physical processes that result in these vast reservoirs of energy and recreating them here on Earth could potentially address all of our impending energy shortfalls.

Since its discovery in 1655 by Christiaan Huygens, Titan has fascinated scientists with its tantalizing similarities to Earth. To me, focusing on understanding Titan, is simply a return to the primary mission objectives of the Cassini expedition. Saturn may be the Ringed Planet and the F Ring is defined by its name but Target 2 is Saturn’s largest moon, receives my ringing endorsement to yield far reaching scientific results."