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Creation 35(1):20–21, January 2012

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Saving the ‘billions of years’ age of Titan

Saturn’s moon Titan is sinking old-age ideas, despite rescue attempts


NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute| ©iStockphoto.com/kyoshino Titan

Next to Mars, Titan is the most intriguing object NASA’s astrobiologists would like to explore, due to its thick nitrogen-and-methane atmosphere which they believe harbors ‘prebiotic’ chemistry at the surface. But before they can talk about life on Titan, they first have to promote the dogma that the giant moon is billions of years old. That’s where the Cassini mission has sent them scrambling for the theory-rescuing lifeboats.

Their problem is that, as an article on Universe Today said in its title,1 “Beneath the Mask, Titan looks Surprisingly Smooth and Youthful.” It’s not surprising to us, but it is to believers in billions of years. “Titan’s surface doesn’t look as old and weather-beaten as it should. The rivers have caused surprisingly little erosion and there are fewer impact craters than would be expected. So what is the secret to Titan’s youthful complexion?” Notice the bias: Titan “should” look old, but it doesn’t. It has fewer craters “than would be expected” to believers in billions of years.

“Titan is around four billion years old, roughly the same age as the rest of the solar system,” the reporter stated as a matter of undisputed fact. “But the low number of impact craters put estimates of its surface at only between 100 million and one billion years old.” These estimates, like other astronomical dates, are based on evolutionary assumptions. Even so, they are not helpful in Titan’s case. One billion is a little more than one fifth the assumed age of the solar system; 100 million is one forty-fifth. This means the evolutionary age is 80–98% wrong, even granting their own assumptions.

We should recall that evolutionary planetary scientists were spectacularly wrong about Titan before. In the 1990s, they had predicted a global ocean of liquid ethane covering Titan’s entire surface. Estimates ranged from half a kilometer to several kilometers deep.2 Titan’s assumed age required this to be true, because methane converts to ethane in the atmosphere by the solar wind at a known rate,3 an irreversible process that must have gone on for 4.5 billion years in the evolutionary scenario. In January 2005, though, the Huygens Probe landed on soft methane-soaked sand. Since then, the Cassini orbiter has found a few large lakes of methane and ethane near the poles, but the mid-latitudes were, to the scientists’ surprise, blanketed with sand dunes.

What is not surprising is that theory rescuers would fly into action to save their billions of years. The rest of the Universe Today article proceeded to do just that. “Researchers at MIT and the University of Tennessee at Knoxville have analyzed images of Titan’s river networks and suggest two possible explanations: either erosion on Titan is extremely slow, or some recent phenomena has [sic] wiped out older surface features.” Notice that the possibility that Titan actually is young is never considered. As the original paper in the Journal of Geophysical Research4 acknowledged, “Titan’s fluvial [river/stream] networks have produced only minor erosional modification of the surface.” With this possibility out, they reached into pure speculation: “This result implies either a recent, non-fluvial resurfacing event or long-term fluvial incision rates that are slow relative to the rate of resurfacing.” It could imply, instead, that Titan is ‘young’.5

Evolutionists have not given up on Titan’s ocean; they just hid it underground, out of sight. A paper in Science July 27, 2012 measured tidal stresses that are “consistent with a global ocean at depth.”6This ocean doesn’t help, though, because it would be a water-ammonia mix, not ethane and methane. Moreover, they did not present any process to get the ocean (as much as 100 km below an icy shell) to erupt onto the surface, where it could contribute to erosion of the missing impact craters.

If these were the only problems challenging a billions-of-years age for Titan, we might grant scientists a little more time to find solutions. But Titan’s atmosphere is also being eroded by the solar wind. The methane warms the nitrogen to keep it in a gas phase. Methane, however, as noted above, is steadily eroded by the solar wind and converted irreversibly to ethane, which precipitates down to the ground in liquid form. When the methane erodes to a critical level, the nitrogen should freeze, collapsing the entire atmosphere catastrophically to the surface. A prominent atmospheric scientist put an upper limit of 10 million years for this to occur; he had no explanation why Titan still has an atmosphere.7 Subsequent hunts for cryovolcanoes to replenish the methane from a hypothetical underground reservoir have proved fruitless.

If Titan were the only problem in the Saturn system, old-agers might excuse it as an exception to the rule. But Saturn has numerous challenges to the consensus 4.5-billion-year age. Enceladus has active geysers erupting ice and dust at a prodigious rate. Iapetus shows a runaway segregation of light and dark material. Each of Saturn’s moons is unique; there is no regularity that suggests old age. In addition, the rings challenge old-age ideas significantly, so much so that a scientist recently hypothesized, in all seriousness, that a Titan-sized object must have wandered in too close long after Saturn had formed, and broken apart to become the rings.8 Ad hoc devices to rescue theories from contrary evidence are generally frowned upon in science. Besides Saturn, examples of youth in the solar system could be multiplied.

Planetary scientists are very skilled at observing what exists now—no question. But they have a disastrous record of explaining how and when the planets came to be. Every planet visited has differed from predictions, largely due to their dogmatic commitment to deep time. It’s time for other views to be heard that do not rely on the assumption of 4.5 billion years.

When you hear an upper limit of 10 or 100 million years for an observed process, keep in mind that’s what it is—an upper limit. It could be far less, including dates that fit the biblical time frame. The upper limits stated here, though, are disastrous for the evolutionary worldview.

Posted on homepage: 24 February 2014

References and notes

  1. Beneath the Mask, Titan looks Surprisingly Smooth and Youthful, Universe Today, 26 July 2012, universetoday.com. Return to text.
  2. Owen, T., Titan, in: The New Solar System, 4th ed., 1999, p. 282. Return to text.
  3. For chemistry buffs, a high-energy ultraviolet photon causes a free radical break in methane, CH4, to CH3• and H•. The dots symbolize the unpaired electrons, which makes these radicals very reactive, One possible reaction (indeed the predominant one) is 2CH3• → C2H6 (ethane). See creation.com/methane, 9 September 2010 and rsta.royalsocietypublishing.org. Return to text.
  4. Black, B.A. et al., Estimating erosional exhumation on Titan from drainage network morphology, Journal of Geophysical Research 117:E08006 | doi:10.1029/2012JE004085, 2012. See also: River networks on Titan point to puzzling geologic history (with video), MIT News, web.mit.edu, 20 July 2012. Return to text.
  5. To evolutionists, the biblical 6,000 years would be young, though it is in fact anything but. Return to text.
  6. Iess, L., Jacobson, R.A. et al., The Tides of Titan, Science 337(6093):457–459, 27 July 2012 | doi:10.1126/science.1219631. Return to text.
  7. Sushil Atreya, personal communication, 15 Jan 2002; see also Atreya, S., The Mystery of Methane on Mars and Titan, Scientific American, May 2007, pp. 42–51, scientificamerican.com. Return to text.
  8. Lovett, R.,Saturn’s rings formed by destruction of giant moon, Nature News, 5 October 2010 | doi:10.1038/news.2010.515, nature.com; “Giant moon collision ‘may have formed Saturn’s rings’,” BBC News, bbc.co.uk, 6 October 2010. Return to text.