Space boat could voyage on Saturn moon Titan's lakes

Titan, the largest of the more than 60 natural satellites of Saturn, is covered in seas, lakes and rivers of methane, and hosts a thick atmosphere, making it one of the most Earth-like bodies in the solar system.

NASA/JPL/USGS
Images from NASA's Cassini mission show river networks draining into lakes in Titan's north polar region.

While rovers are ideal for exploring Mars, a boat is best for Titan, Saturn's largest moon. Scientists are proposing a new mission to explore this alluring world that would send a floating probe to land in a lake on Titan.

Titan, the largest of the more than 60 natural satellites of Saturn, is covered in seas, lakes and rivers of methane, and hosts a thick atmosphere, making it one of the most Earth-like bodies in the solar system. Smaller than Earth but wider than Mercury, Titan is in many ways more like a planet than a moon.

Scientists don't know if life might be possible on Titan. Some think it's too cold, as average temperatures are a chilly minus 289 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 178 degrees Celsius). Yet others say the insulating atmosphere and plentiful liquids, not to mention a possible subsurface ocean, could be hospitable to microbial organisms.

That's part of the reason researchers are so eager to explore the world, which has been imaged in recent years by NASA's Cassini mission, and was even studied by the accompanying European Space Agency Huygens probe, which plunged through Titan's atmosphere and touched down on land in January 2005, transmitting a few hours of data before it went quiet. [Amazing Photos of Titan]

Huygens confirmed that lakes, rivers and seas of liquid hydrocarbons abound on Titan. Now scientists want to send a follow-up mission to explore them.

That's where the Titan Lake In-situ Sampling Propelled Explorer (TALISE) comes in. The proposed mission would land a boat, propelled by wheels, paddles or screws, to float around Ligeia Mare, the largest lake on the moon, located near Titan's north pole. After splashing down, TALISE would make its way to the coast over the course of a trip lasting six months to a year.

"The main innovation in TALISE is the propulsion system," Igone Urdampilleta of Spain-based private engineering firm SENER, a member of the TALISE team, said in a statement. "This allows the probe to move, under control, from the landing site in the lake, to the closest shore. The displacement capability would achieve the obtaining of liquid and solid samples from several scientific interesting locations on Titan's surface such as the landing place, along the route towards the shore and finally at the shoreline." 

TALISE is a joint project of SENER and the Centro de Astrobiología in Madrid, Spain. The concept is in its beginning stages, but scientists presented the proposal on Sept. 27 at the European Planetary Science Congress in Madrid.

Follow SPACE.com on Twitter @Spacedotcom. We're also on Facebook & Google+

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.