Filmed on location

JJ Abrams’ Star Trek, as you have no doubt already heard, is spectacular, touching, funny, gorgeous. It is not flawless, and it’s only a superbly executed piece of pop culture after all, but I can’t imagine anyone else doing a better reboot for the series. Abrams is much more than just another skilled technician. He’s good for the movies.

It contains one sequence designed to appeal, not to Star Trek geeks, but to fans of real-life space exploration. In the third act it becomes necessary for the Enterprise to hide somewhere briefly. Scottie and Sulu pick Titan, the cloudy moon of Saturn. The sequence lasts about a minute and a half — this movie moves fast — but as a guy who used to spend hours poring over Voyager pictures from Saturn and Jupiter in Discover and National Geographic, I  was happy for a chance to see Titan again.

It’s always been the coolest moon in the solar system. Stormy, violent, shrouded in clouds that protect its mystery, larger than our own moon, Titan was once regarded as a good candidate for life. I still regard it as a good candidate for life, but those will have to be some hardy bugs because the surface of Titan is pretty nasty. Among its features: lakes of liquid natural gas the size of Lake Superior.

We know a lot about Titan thanks to the NASA’s Cassini probe, which has been orbiting Saturn for five years and is still sending back mountains of data. Cassini even launched a surface probe, Huygens, which landed on Titan and briefly sent back data from the surface. NASA uses web technology well to popularize its discoveries, so you can catch up on Titan here. It’s worth your time. This is our neighbourhood, after all.

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.