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Usain Bolt could fly on Titan

Students have determined that a human wearing a skydiving wingsuit would be able to take off from Saturn’s largest moon and fly unassisted.

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Humans have always dreamed of flying like birds, and while we’ve accomplished it using technology and jet engines, we’ll never take to the skies unassisted and soar like the birds do. That is, unless we decide to colonize Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. As a final year project, physics students at the University of Leicester have calculated that a very fast human would be able to take off from the moon under their own power, if equipped with a skydiving wingsuit. The students theorized in their paper, which was submitted to the peer reviewed Journal of Physics Special Topics, that to pull off the stunt, someone would have to be able to sprint as fast as world-record holder Usain Bolt (12.27m/s).

Titan has a lucky combination of attributes that makes it very flight friendly. It has a gravitational pull of only 0.14g (less than the moon), but more significantly, it is the only moon in the solar system with a thick atmosphere. The nitrogen rich atmosphere is, in fact, about 50% thicker than the one here on Earth. Because of this, astronomers have long believed that humans could fly on titan using wing-like devices attached to them. The students have managed to prove however, that you could make due with even less than that.

The paper took into account the gravitational pull and atmospheric thickness of the moon, as well as the average wingsuit area and the ratio of the airflow above and below the wingsuit. The students determined that to get the necessary amount of lift, the runner would have to be sprinting at 11m/s, which is indeed possible for olympic class sprinters. For the rest of us however, a speed of 6m/s would be sufficient, assuming we had a wingsuit with an area about three times larger than normal.

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Unfortunately, with a surface temperature of -175C, it’s unlikely we’ll be soaring over Titan’s methane lakes any time soon.

One of the paper’s authors, Hannah Lerman, said: “I had seen a lot of claims online that humans would be able to fly on Titan, but no one had given the physics behind it. I thought it would be interesting to try it with a wingsuit; something that you actually use on earth. It is a really exciting idea that someone like Usain Bolt could actually fly unaided. It would give a whole new dimension to traveling”

Source: Phys.org, University of Leicester

David F.
A grad student in experimental physics, David is fascinated by science, space and technology. When not buried in lecture books, he enjoys movies, gaming and mountainbiking

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