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Orange haze blurs the view outside your spaceship's window. You're descending to Titan, the largest of Saturn's 62 moons and 1.5 times bigger than Earth's moon. The smog beneath you thins, and you gasp in amazement: On the alien surface below, rivers flow through canyons. Waves crash in oceans. But Titan is no place like home.
Your special spacecraft splashes down in Kraken Mare, Titan's largest sea. The pumpkin-orange coastline is lined by craggy cliffs. Rocks dot the shore. But because it's a frigid minus 290°F here, the rocks are made of solid ice.
Rain begins to fall. It isn't water—it's methane and ethane. On Earth these are polluting gases. On Titan they form clouds and fall as rain that fills the rivers and oceans. You scoop up a sample of ocean liquid for a closer look: Scientists think there's a chance that Titan's seas might be home to alien life.
It'd be very strange if something did live here. On Earth everything living is partly made of water. Since there's no liquid water on Titan's surface, creatures here would be formed of methane or ethane. And because it's so cold, they'd move in slow motion.
Before you can get a good look at your sample, you hear a rumble. It's an ice volcano, thousands of feet tall. It shoots out a slurry of ice and ammonia (a chemical used as a cleaning product on Earth). You'd better get away before the icy blasts sink your boat!
• At minus 290°F, Titan seems way too cold for alien life. But it might not be. Even on Earth, creatures called cryophiles thrive in below-freezing temperatures. Brr!
Text by Stephanie Warren Drimmer