Saturn’s Icy Moon Needs A Geothermal Power Plant

Posted by on Mar 10, 2011 in Enceladus, Energy, Saturn | 0 comments

Orbiting a gas giant that is over a billion kilometers away from the Sun, settlers upon Saturn’s moon Enceladus do not have the option of powering future outposts via solar panels (as sunlight is rather faint at that distance).

While future colonists could always break down water ice into hydrogen and oxygen, it might be wiser for residents to establish geothermal power plants upon Enceladus’s surface instead.

Data from Cassini’s composite infrared spectrometer of Enceladus’ south polar terrain, which is marked by linear fissures, indicate that the internal heat-generated power is about 15.8 gigawatts, approximately 2.6 times the power output of all the hot springs in the Yellowstone region, or comparable to 20 coal-fueled power stations. This is more than an order of magnitude higher than scientists had predicted, according to Carly Howett, the lead author of study, who is a postdoctoral researcher at Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo., and a composite infrared spectrometer science team member. […]

It has been known since 2005 that Enceladus’ south polar terrain is geologically active and the activity is centered on four roughly parallel linear trenches, 130 kilometers (80 miles) long and about 2 kilometers (1 mile) wide, informally known as the “tiger stripes.” Cassini also found that these fissures eject great plumes of ice particles and water vapor continually into space. These trenches have elevated temperatures due to heat leaking out of Enceladus’ interior. (Astrobiology Magazine)

Since Enceladus’s orbits within Saturn’s radiation belts, residents will need a way to power their artificial magnetic fields in order to avoid being microwaved by the sixth planet from the Sun.

Establishing several geothermal power plants upon the surface could help a future outpost not only power the technology required for their survival, but help them avoid relying upon non-renewable nuclear reactors (or even frequent methane shipments from Titan).

Image: NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, shows how the south polar terrain of Saturn’s moon Enceladus emits much more power than scientists had originally predicted.

Credit: NASA / JPL / SWRI / SSI

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Dear NASA, Please Don't Rock The Space Boat (Saturn's Titan)

Posted by on Jan 21, 2010 in Blog, NASA, Saturn, Titan | 1 comment

(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.

( 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.

Stofan wants the “space boat” to land either in the Ligeia Mare or the Kraken Mare (note: she probably would want both, but NASA may not due to budget cuts).

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)

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The 7 (Future) Wonders Of The Solar System

Posted by on Nov 20, 2009 in Asteroids, Blog, Callisto, Future, Ganymede, Jupiter, Mars, Mercury, Moon, Pluto, Saturn, Solar Essay, Titan, Uranus | 5 comments


Two hundred years after the first man and woman graced the plains of Mars, humanity is still isolated to just one star system.

Despite an intense campaign by the Alpha Centauri Society, humans overall have little desire to travel between stars due to cost and technology.

Although this rowdy species has yet to claim their interstellar inheritence, they have transformed their solar playground around them, producing seven wonders that will go down in galactic history.

The Silver Stripes of Mercury

Originally conceived as a penal colony, industrial corporations decended upon Mecury after discovering large deposits of minerals and metals upon its surface.

While its close proximety to the Sun has made Mercury famous for its Magsail races, it’s the billions of solar panels that encircle the planet on the surface (in “neat” rows varying between 1-10 km wide) that make this world an engineering wonder.

The planets 100,000 residents use the energy produced during the Mecurian day to power the ores and cities on the dark side of the planet when it’s safe to work above ground (due to the Sol Star’s radiation).

The Bio Gardens of Luna Maria


(Image Credit: Daein Ballard)

Officially designated Luna Maria after the failed Lunar revolution (condemned by government and religious leaders on Earth), Luna Maria has transformed its appearence from a white barren wasteland into a “second Eden,” which now boasts 60 million residents.

After generating enormous wealth from exporting oxygen throughout the Sol System, Luna Maria has erected hundreds of thousands of enormous, interconnected biospheres upon 87% of its surface, giving Luna Maria the appearence of a miniture Earth from space.

Luna Maria’s artificial planetary magnetic field (the only one in existance due to cost) has allowed the moon to use bees instead of ants to pollinate its crops, producing gardens unrivaled throughout the star system (due to it’s 16.7% Earth norm gravity).

The Phobian Skyhook (Or Martian Space Elevator)


(Image Credit: Steve Bowers)

After failed attempts to construct a space elevator on Earth (due to infrequent yet devestating global wars), humanity was finally able to construct a skyhook on the Martian moon of Phobos.

This engineering feat has enabled Mars to inexpensively export its vast supply of water throughout the asteroid belt and inner Sol System, bringing mixed prosperity to the 8 million residents of Mars.

While the red planet’s globacanes prevent a space elevator touching the ground from ever being built, the Phobian Skyhook is an impressive site to see when orbiting this crimson world.

The Jovian Jewel Callisto


(Image Credit: Thomas Guilpain)

Originally established as a way station world during the Helium-3 rush (in which thousands sought to harvest the isotope for profit), Jupiter’s moon Callisto attracted millions of residents after being declared the safest radiation world after Earth.

Using its brother moon Ganymede as an agricultural world (due to it’s natural magnetic field), Callisto developed the means to feed its enormous population of 750 million, who built cities covering 96% of the entire surface.

Using robots to harvest radioactive materials from both Io and Europa to power its cities (as they are too dangerous to be visited by humans), Callisto brilliantly shimmers in the dark whenever it falls underneath Jupiter’s shadow.

The Beacon Towers Of Titan

Often declared as “an astronomer’s hell” due to it’s cloudy covering, Saturn’s moon Titan is considered a musicians heaven due to the richer sound that’s a result of it’s atmospheric presure and composition.

While Titan eventually became wealthy by exporting methane and ethane to the Sol System, the cloudy moon was extremly difficult to navigate as its crust rested upon a methane/ethane mix, causing it to “slightly drift” and rotate due to the worlds strong winds.

Since traditional forms of GPS were utterly useless, numerous 1.5 kilometer tall Beacon towers (beaming out intense radio waves) were constructed thoughout the moon, giving its 4 million residents a faux GPS system (making travel and commerce throughout the world a lot easier for all).

The Floating Cities Of Uranus


(Image Credit: Star Wars, original artist unknown)

Originally built by various Terrian corporations to harvest methane and helium-3 within the clouds of this ice giant, these floating cities soon became tourist attractions for the more affluent seeking to escape the low gravity life of lunar worlds orbiting gas giants.

These giant orbital space stations boast near Earth gravity, and mimic the daylight cycle on Earth by floating around the enormous ice giant which its residents call home.

While estimates put the total population between 80,000 wealthy souls, these floating cities are known to have hundreds of thousands of visitors pass through their space ports each standard year, many of them heading towards the Neptunian Lagrange asteroid fields.

The Plutonian Ice Bridge (aka Solar Bridge of Pluto And Charon)

Boasting no more than 50,000 brave souls, this world was originally settled upon by government scientists from various Terrian, Martian and Callistian nations seeking to conduct experiments considered too hazardous (and/or controversial) on their respective home worlds.

While the world and its smaller moon hold little value (both visually and economically), one interesting feature of this binary system is the solar bridge connecting both Pluto and Charon together.

This engineering feat was originally built to reduce the cost of travel between both worlds via rockets although conspiracy theorists have their own conclusions for its existence (none of which will be cited here).

What about Earth?

Although the human race has made great strides in establishing colonies throughout the Sol System, most of its 20 billion individuals reside on the birth planet Earth.

While Earth is still home to some of the greatest scientific discoveries known to man (and women), there are no great engineering wonders to speak of, aside from the beautiful beaches, mountains and vast blue oceans that distinguish our home world from every other sphere that orbits our star.

Update (11/24): Corrected grammatical errors. Thanks!

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Nitrogen Powered Rockets (For Titan, Triton And Pluto?)

Posted by on Mar 23, 2009 in Blog, Neptune, Pluto, Rockets, Saturn, Technology, Titan, Triton | 2 comments

(Image: A prototype of the Mini-Helicon Plasma Thruster. Credit: Donna Coveney / MIT)

Out “in the black” where the suns rays are much dimmer, future explorers will have to come up with innovative ways to travel to and from the gas giants, dwarf planets and the various moons that dance around their parent worlds.

While solar sails, magnetic sails and nuclear rockets could provide some measure of transport, they will probably be too expensive for the average star ship.

Since mining hydrogen directly from gas giants is suicidal due to their deep gravity wells and very fierce winds (with the only exception being Uranus), colonists beyond Jupiter may look towards nitrogen to solve their space transport needs.

(Space Travel) Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers say their new rocket — called the Mini-Helicon Plasma Thruster — is much smaller than other rockets of its kind and could consume just one-tenth the fuel used by conventional systems. […]

The scientists said the Mini-Helicon is the first rocket to run on nitrogen, the most abundant gas in Earth’s atmosphere. Batishchev noted, however, it could be years before the technology can be used commercially.

While this technology will have some value on our home world, these nitrogen powered rockets may prove invaluable to worlds like Titan, Triton and Pluto who seem to be blessed with an abundance of nitrogen, respectively.

If future settlers could find ways to harvest this element from these worlds, then humanity may discover a means to travel not only throughout the outer planets, but perhaps beyond the Kuiper belt as well.

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More Radiation Safe Worlds (Around Saturn)

Posted by on Jul 20, 2008 in Blog, Dione, Health, Rhea, Saturn | 0 comments

(Image: Saturn’s radiation belts, Credit: NASA / JPL / APL)

Despite the fact that planetary magnetic fields provide shelter against deadly solar radiation, they are also accompanied with radiation belts, an item some would consider a mixed blessing.

While Earth, Callisto and Titan comprise the three major radiation safe worlds (at least when it comes to raising kids), two other icy worlds–Dione and Rhea–join the list as they orbit beyond Saturn’s radiation belts (and within its magnetic field).

Hopefully as technology improves (especially when it comes to building radiation resistant habitats), Saturn’s other icy worlds will be safe enough for future colonists to establish outposts upon–without the fear of contracting cancer due to radiation exposure.

Although most of Saturn’s residents will probably raise their kids upon Titan (because of its higher gravity), Dione and Rhea will probably attract a significant population due to its access to view the stars above (not to mention Saturn as well).

Update (7/21): Fixed excel sheet embedding code.

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Saturn: Titan Colonists May Loathe The Moon's Sand

Posted by on May 5, 2008 in Blog, Saturn, Titan | 0 comments

(Hat Tip: The Space Fellowship, Image Credit: NASA)

Located approximately 1.5 billion kilometers away from the Sun, Saturn’s Titan may prove to be one of the more interesting worlds to live upon in our solar system.

While it would not be surprising to see cites constructed upon the moon due to its methane lakes, future colonists may find its sand to be “slightly irritating.”

(NASA) On Earth, sand grains form by breaking things down, but on Titan, the opposite may be true – with much of the sand a product of building things up.

That’s one theory Cassini scientists are considering after studying Titan’s massive sand dunes with the visible and infrared mapping spectrometer on the Cassini Saturn orbiter. The new observations raise the possibility that much of the sand grows from hydrocarbon particulates fallen from the sky that, once on the ground, join together and become sand grain-size particles. […]

In the May 2008 issue of the journal Icarus Cassini scientists report that dunes contain less water ice than the rest of Titan. The dark brown sands appear to be made up of the same kind of complex organic chemicals that dominate Titan’s smoggy atmosphere. If the dunes are made up of the same dark material on the inside as they have on the outside, then there’s simply too much organic sand to have come from erosion alone.

The new findings may help explain how, once on the ground, hydrocarbon particulates the size of smoke particles might grow into sand grains through a process called “sintering” – a slight melting that welds particles together. It may be that sintering produces particles that are just the right size for sand grains – between 0.18-0.25 millimeters and no larger, perfect for blowing in the wind and drifting into dunes.

If humanity desires to ever live upon this world, they may have to find a way to counteract this sintering effect, as the last thing colonists need is to have these particles building up upon future spaceports, buildings and homes (not to mention rocket ships).

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