Gigantic lakes of liquid methane on Saturn’s moon, Titan, could power off-world colonies and provide safe landing zones for probes, but sadly they aren’t suitable for surfing, according to new research.
Two separate papers published in the last two weeks have provided new insights about the viability of robotic and human travel to Titan, the only other world in our solar system with known liquid on the surface.
Among the new information is the discovery that waves on Titan reach only about a centimeter in height. It means the moon doesn’t have particularly strong winds during the summer months, a good sign for future landings.
“It shows that if you want to go there, especially on the lakes, it might be easier to design a craft than you think,” said Cyril Grima, a research associate at the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics and lead author of the study.
Grima and his collaborators employed a radar technique used to study snow density on Earth to determine the roughness of Titan’s lakes based on data captured by the Cassini spacecraft. a Jet Propulsion Laboratory-led mission now in orbit around Saturn. Former JPL director Charles Elachi is a co-author on the paper and a member of the Cassini radar team.
Their research, published in the journal “Earth and Planetary Science Letters,” focused on three lakes in Titan’s northern hemisphere: Kraken Mare, Ligeia Mare and Punga Mare. By studying distortions in pings off the surface, researchers were able to determine waves on those lakes reach about 1 centimeter high and about 20 centimeters long.
Kraken Mare, the largest lake on the moon, is more massive than the Caspian Sea.
Though Titan has low gravity — slightly less than our moon — and its lakes are made of methane instead of water, evidence suggests winds and choppy water are not likely to pose a risk for a future probe.
A separate study, published in the “Journal of Astrobiology and Outreach,” adds to the image of a much more habitable Titan. The research by Amanda Hendrix, of the Planetary Science Institute in Arizona, and Yuk Yung, of Caltech’s planetary and geological sciences division, found Titan has enough natural resources to power a human colony for thousands of years. The moon’s thick atmosphere could shield against damaging radiation.
“It has Earth-like qualities and a thick atmosphere that provides shielding from damaging radiation, unlike any other solid surface location in the solar system,” they wrote. “Given the distance from Earth, … such a settlement must be self-sustainable and in particular, humans will need to produce oxygen to breathe and provide heating for habitats.”
The methane lakes, if developed into hydropower, could provide energy for “53,900 to 431,250 Earth years,” but colonists would likely need to engineer a way to make the low elevation liquid flow downhill, according to the research. Nuclear, solar and wind power could all provide reliable energy, though not all as effectively as on Earth.
NASA HAS NO PLANS AT THIS TIME TO RETURN TO TITAN ONCE THE CASSINI MISSION WRAPS UP LATER THIS YEAR WITH AN EXPLOSIVE FINALE. THE TEAM WILL INTENTIONALLY BURN UP CASSINI IN SATURN’S ATMOSPHERE IN PART TO PREVENT AN ACCIDENTAL COLLISION AND CONTAMINATION OF TITAN, WHERE SCIENTISTS BELIEVE ITS POSSIBLE THAT LIFE MAY HAVE FORMED OR COULD FORM IN THE FUTURE.
“Titan is certainly one of the most interesting targets in our solar system,” said Bruce Betts, director of science and technology at the space exploration advocacy group, The Planetary Society. “Cassini only increased interest in Titan and the more data it got, the more interesting Titan got, but it won’t be an easy mission and it’ll be an expensive mission, particularly to go to the surface.”
Jupiter’s moon Europa, an icy world that may have oceans beneath the surface, is NASA’s next target for investigation. With a limited budget, NASA has to choose where to go next carefully. Titan is in line, but it’s impossible to say when those stars might align.
“We have a ways to go for robotic, and a very, very long ways to go for humans,” Betts said of future missions to Titan.
Quelle: San Gabriel,Valley Tribune