Exploring an alien sea: NASA designs submarine to send to Titan

Artist’s conception of the Titan Submarine Phase I Conceptual Design. Much like submarines on Earth, the sub would explore the depths of one of Titan’s methane/ethane seas. Image Credit: NASA
Artist’s conception of the Titan Submarine Phase I Conceptual Design. Much like submarines on Earth, the sub would explore the depths of one of Titan’s methane/ethane seas. Image Credit: NASA

Who wouldn’t want to go explore an alien sea? It seems that NASA would certainly like to, and the agency has unveiled a new submarine design to hopefully do just that one day. The submarine would be sent to Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, to dive into one of the large liquid methane seas on the moon’s frigid surface; such a mission idea may sound like science fiction, but it’s not, and would be the first ever to explore a sea on another world which is both Earth-like in some ways, yet utterly alien in others.

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New technique provides better, clearer radar images of Titan’s amazing surface

Radar view of Ligeia Mare, a large hydrocarbon sea on Titan. The original version is on the left and the enhanced, “despeckled” version is on the right. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI
Radar view of Ligeia Mare, a large hydrocarbon sea on Titan. The original version is on the left and the enhanced, “despeckled” version is on the right. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI

Saturn’s largest moon Titan is a fascinating world, uniquely alien yet eerily Earth-like in many ways, with its rain, rivers, lakes, seas, and massive sand dunes. But in this extremely cold environment, it is liquid methane and ethane which act as “water,” mimicking the hydrological cycle on Earth. Also, due to the perpetual and global hazy cloud cover, the only way to see these features from orbit is by using radar, which is what the Cassini spacecraft has done on a regular basis for quite a few years now. As good as they are, though, the radar images contain electronic noise, which reduces sharpness and clarity. But now a new technique is letting planetary scientists see Titan’s surface more clearly than ever before.

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Lakes on two worlds

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Montage of lake reflections on Earth and Titan.
Credit: ESA / NASA / JPL / University of Arizona / DLR / Planetary Landscapes

This is a beautiful montage showing sunlight reflecting off lakes on two different worlds. A water lake (of course) on Earth and a methane lake on Saturn’s moon Titan. While the composition is quite different, the hydrological and methanological processes are remarkably similar, with rain, rivers, lakes and seas. Familiar but alien at the same time… Thanks to Planetary Landscapes for use of this image!

Cassini finds alien version of ‘Nile River’ on Titan

Titan’s version of the Nile River stretches across this radar image; part of the Ligeia Mare sea is also visible on the right side of the image. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / ASI

Want to go river rafting on Titan? The largest moon of Saturn is the only other place in the solar system known to have rivers, lakes and seas on its surface. Appearance-wise, they are eerily similar to their earthly counterparts, but are composed of liquid methane instead of water, in Titan’s extremely cold environment. Now, the Cassini spacecraft has found the largest Titanian river system yet, similar to the Nile River on Earth, as announced on December 12, 2012.

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Boating on Titan: new mission proposal for exploring an alien lake

Radar image of Ligeia Mare, the largest lake on Titan, with associated river channels. Credit: NASA / JPL / USGS

Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, is in many ways one of the most Earth-like places in the solar system. More like a planet than most moons, it is the only other world, so far anyway, known to have lakes on its surface. Similar to the hydrological cycle on Earth, the lakes are filled by rain, which also creates rivers and streams. Titan, however, is much colder than Earth, so the liquid is methane / ethane, not water.

This discovery has made Titan one of the most fascinating destinations for further exploration. The Cassini spacecraft has increased our knowledge many-fold, but there is only so much that can be done from orbit. But now a new mission proposal may change that, one which would actually send a boat to land in one of the lakes in the northern hemisphere.

See Examiner.com for the full article.

Saturn and Titan pose for Cassini

Titan floats in front of Saturn as seen by Cassini. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Space Science Institute

The Cassini spacecraft has returned some beautiful new images of Saturn and its largest moon Titan. The photo above shows Titan passing in front of Saturn from Cassini’s viewpoint; Saturn’s rings are seen almost edge-on with their shadows below them arcing across Saturn’s atmosphere. Simply breathtaking…

Additional images are here and the image advisory is here.