IDL TIFF file
NASA’s Cassini spacecraft recently detected what is considered to be the largest body of liquid on Saturn’s moon Titan — and now the space agency wants to go swimming.
In 2008, the 400,000 square kilometers of ocean was named Kraken Mare after a legendary sea monster. Not long after, scientists at NASA started to dream up ways to explore it.
The agency idea — as ambitious as it may be — is to send an autonomous submarine.
Titan is the only place in our solar system where we have found surface of liquids, as the thinking goes, where there is water there is probably life.
It would, however, still a very resilient life form given that the rivers and lakes on Titan’s surface carry a deadly mixture of methane and ethane.
The proposed submarine is considered by NASA would independently carry out detailed scientific investigations under the surface of Titan’s northern ocean, providing unprecedented knowledge of an extraterrestrial sea and expanding NASA’s existing capabilities in planetary exploration to nautical activities, the space agency says.
Concepts for exploring alien oceans have been proposed in the past, but those are usually focused on more simple ideas, such as sending down suspended probes.
“No one has yet envisioned what such a craft might look like, how it would work or if it could be built,” NASA’s mission website says.
Nevertheless, the space agency has mapped out a conceptual mission design for the Titan Submarine, and is considering the lofty mission within the next 20 years.
It is 886 million miles to Titan, so it would be a pretty serious spacecraft to the submarine. But if it happens, of the University of Washington is helping NASA simulate the condition of such a vehicle would encounter on arrival.
This month, the WSU research team has announced that they had built a test chamber to house a fluid mixture at very cold temperatures to simulate -184C Crack sea.
One thing the researchers are looking at is call. A submarine powered by a heat-producing machine in the very cold Titan fluid will cause nitrogen bubbles to form and to many bubbles would make it difficult to manuever the ship.
The group also studied the freezing temperatures for methane and ethane lakes and determined that, as a result of a small amount of nitrogen in the liquid, the lakes freeze at lower temperatures than they expected.
“That’s a big deal,” said researcher Ian Richardson. “That means that you don’t need to worry about icebergs.”
If the mission goes ahead, it will represent a new frontier of space exploration.
“By addressing the challenges of autonomous submersible exploration in a cold outer solar system environment, Titan Sub serves as a precursor for even more exotic future exploration of the sub-surface water oceans of Jupiter’s moon Europa,” NASA says.
Watch this space.
This story was previously published in the news.com.au.