It’s an eternal question which has echoed through the ages: Is there life on Mars?
Well we might actually be getting an answer to a similar question about Saturn’s moon – Titan – because NASA wants to go swimming in a huge body of liquid on the moon’s surface.
The Cassini space probe recently discovered the ocean, which has been named Kraken Mare, with a huge size of 400,000 km².
Ever since, NASA have wanted to go for a not-so-quick dip in the sea and explore its depths – they reckon they’ve just the autonomous submarine to do it.
If you’re wondering what’s so interesting about Kraken Mare, it’s the only place in our solar system where we’ve found surface liquids, making it one of the best possible locations where we could find alien life.
However, this might be a long shot as the rivers and lakes on the surface of Titan also have a pretty heady concoction of methane and ethane, so the little alien buggers will have to be pretty strong.
The plan, as it stands so far, is to have the submarine carry out investigations just under the surface of the northern-most part of the ocean, which would give unprecedented insight into the workings of the moon.
The mission website highlights how this is a massive endeavour, one which has never even been attempted before.
The mission statement reads:
This investigation represents a significant advancement in our understanding of the history and evolution of organic compounds in the solar system and hence a critical step along the path to understanding the evolution of life here on Earth and potential life elsewhere in the galaxy.
Saturn’s moon Titan may be nearly a billion miles away from Earth, but data from our @CassiniSaturn spacecraft reveals a new way this distant world & our own are eerily similar: both have sea level, meaning the surface of oceans lie at an average elevation https://t.co/K4R7BSTN5T pic.twitter.com/SANbhhPFBu
— NASA (@NASA) January 24, 2018
Despite the fact this project is incredibly ambitious, the space agency are trying to get the mission on the go within the next 20 years, according to news.com.au.
Titan is 1.4 billion km away – which is no short journey – and even when the sub arrives, it’ll face incredibly harsh conditions.
The sea is a chilling -184C, which presents all kinds of engineering problems, not least of which what the effect of the hot engines from the submarine will do to its immediate surroundings.
However, because the freezing point of methane and ethane is so low, one thing the researchers don’t have to worry about is icebergs, according to Ian Richardson, researcher on the project.
The Washington State University are actually trying to replicate the environment in the Kraken Mare sea, in order to assist NASA.
The mission statement concludes by saying:
Titan Sub will also address the NASA technology areas of Space Power and Energy Storage, Robotics and Autonomous Systems, Communications and Navigation Systems, Science Instruments and Sensors, Materials, and Thermal Management Systems.
By addressing the challenges of autonomous submersible exploration in a cold outer solar system environment, Titan Sub serves as a pathfinder for even more exotic future exploration of the subsurface water oceans of Europa etc.
This development with WSU is the next major step in testing how the mission is going to work but it’s going to be a while before we report on the (hopeful) success of this mission.
For now at least, the Titanian aliens will be left in peace.