Rovers Are So Last Year: NASA Plans to Send a Submarine to Explore Titan


We’re back, everybody!

Sorry for the extended AWOL but we’ve been kidnapped by aliens. I swear to Xenu this is only a half-lie.

Now, let’s get back to work.

Quick question: what’s the best way to deal with Titan? “Imprison it in Tartarus.” No, not a Titan, the Titan, silly! What I meant to say is NASA recently revealed a conceptual mission to send a submarine to Kraken Mare, the largest sea on Titan. This sea extends for over 620 miles (1,000 kilometers) and reaches estimated depths of around 1,000 feet (300 meters).


The northern tip of the Kraken Mare. Just the tip.

The crown jewel of Saturn’s 62 moons, Titan makes for one interesting astronomical body. It’s the only natural satellite in the solar system that has a dense atmosphere. And it’s the only object besides Earth that presents clear evidence of large, stable bodies of liquid on its surface. Bear in mind that the lakes and seas on the surface of Titan aren’t composed of water but rather liquid methane and ethane. Since Titan receives about a hundred times less sunlight than Earth, the temperature on its surface rarely exceeds 93 K (-179° C).

Data sent back by the Cassini spacecraft and its payload – the Huygens probe – have only served in making us more interested in Titan. Ever since Huygens landed on Titan in January 2005, scientists have been anxious to send another probe on this intriguing satellite.

While no date has been provided for this future mission, it’s interesting to see what the space agency has planned. The submarine would travel about 1,250 miles (2,000 kilometers) under the Kraken Mare’s hydrocarbon waves. Such a feat would be achieved over the course of a 90 day mission.

While finding fuel on Titan would be no biggie, there isn’t any oxygen so a V8 strapped to our hypothetical submarine is out of question. Instead, it would be fitted with a radioisotope thermoelectric generator which would provide enough power for moving and performing scientific measurements.

Its objectives would include analysis of the liquid that makes up the Kraken Mare as well as studying its currents and tides. Cameras fitted on the submarine would allow it to capture the orangeness of Titan’s landscape.

At the moment there aren’t many details regarding the mission since it’s in the incipient phase. But there are a number of hurdles that need to be passed before the project green-lit. Certain technologies need to be developed or perfected. After all, this is the outer solar system we’re talking about here.

Saturn’s orbit is also a determining factor in the launch date since it takes around 30 Earth years for the planet to complete a full revolution around the Sun. Choosing the right time to launch the mission would mean shaving a few miles off the legth of the end journey, about 180 million miles, to be precise.

Exciting as it is, the mission is unlikely to take place sooner than the 2040’s so I guess we’ll just have to live for a few more decades before we get to know what it’s like under Titan’s freezing waves.

Until then, here’s a video of the otherworldly seafarer that doesn’t yet exist:

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