(Image: This side-by-side image shows a Cassini radar image of Ligeia Mare, on the left compared to Lake Superior on the right. Credit: NASA/JPL/GSFC)
After discovering methane lakes upon Saturn’s Titan, scientists have yet to figure out the chemical makeup of these mini seas (which could be worth billions of dollars–provided that you could actually get there).
One scientist by the name of Dr Ellen Stofan may have a “simple” solution for landing an interplanetary space boat upon the methane lakes–provided she receives the funding.
(Physorg.com) The proposal is to launch the mission, dubbed the Titan Mare Explorer (TiME) in January 2016, and to make flybys of Earth and then Jupiter to pick up the required gravitational energy to reach Saturn’s moon. It would arrive on Titan in June 2023. The estimated cost of the mission is less than $425 million, which is quite low in comparison to many space exploration missions, such as the $3.2 billion Cassini-Huygens mission launched in 2004.
The boat would carry a mass spectrometer, sonar, cameras and meteorology instruments. The main objective of the proposed mission is to analyze the lakes to determine their precise chemical composition, but a secondary objective is to study the cycling of methane and other hydrocarbons to work out how these systems operate. Sonar would be carried to check the depths of the lakes and the bottom contours, and the cameras would send images back to Earth.
Regardless of where we land, this idea sounds better than the hot air balloon probes proposed earlier (since we could determine whether or not establishing an outpost on Titan is worth it in the distant future).
(Hat Tip: Gizmodo)