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Fly me to the moons of Saturn
September 18, 2011 7:34 AM   Subscribe

Carolyn Porco is the leader of the Imaging Team on the Cassini-Huygens mission. Watch as she extolls the wonders and discovery about two of Saturn's most interesting moons, Titan and Enceladus.

NASA is considering sending another probe to the system. The Titan Mare Explorer is a low cost mission proposal, designed to land in a lake near Titan's north pole. For 96 days it would make the first study of an extraterrestrial body of water.
posted by Brandon Blatcher (25 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is the kind of thing that makes me happy to be a human. The moon systems of the gas giants are completely fascinating - little solar systems in their own right - and you could spend a lifetime studying just a tiny part of them. Titan is the moon everyone talks about, so it's nice to hear Dr. Poroco discuss about Enceladus as well.

Thanks for this post.
posted by Salieri at 7:44 AM on September 18, 2011


so it's nice to hear Dr. Poroco discuss about Enceladus as well

This exchange from the first link is really interesting:
Wired.com: So if you had a lineup of Enceladus, Titan and Europa, which are always brought up as good targets for astrobiology, which would you choose?

Porco: Oh, Enceladus wins hands down. Titan has no liquid water on its surface and any liquid water beneath its surface is inaccessible to us, as far as we know. It has hydrocarbon lakes, but we don’t know of any organisms that could live in those, not at the temperatures that we find on Titan. Any reference to possible life in lakes on the surface of Titan is pure speculation.

We do know of subsurface Earth ecologies that could thrive in the subsurface environment on Enceladus. Now that we know there’s salty water there, that shows there’s liquid water in contact with rock. Biotic chemistry could occur that we know exists in volcanic environments miles underneath Earth’s surface, where liquid water percolates through hot rocks.

As far as Europa goes, Europa very likely has an ocean under its surface. In that regard, Europa and Enceladus are on equal par. But on Europa, the ocean is at least several kilometers under the surface and the moon is bathed in an intense radiation field. We can’t go there and just drill several kilometers down because the intense radiation field would fry a properly equipped spacecraft in several months.

So while there could indeed be life within the ocean of Europa, it is presently inaccessible. The beauty of Enceladus is all you have to do is land on the surface, look up and stick your tongue out. It could be snowing microbes at the south pole. We would be foolish not to head back there immediately.
There's a possible snowstorm of microbes on Enceladus people, what are we waiting for?!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:53 AM on September 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


This fits in perfectly with my plan to send babies into space. Babies fucking love playing in the snow.


Srsly tho, I have been so bitter for so long about the death of the manned spaceflight program that I often forget that awesome probey things can still happen.
posted by elizardbits at 7:57 AM on September 18, 2011


discuss "about"? I fail at proofreading

And yeah, a big problem with Titan is the temperature. Even if you had organic molecules, chemical processes at those temps would be minimal. Enceladus is such a neat place. Salt water! Who could ask for better than that?

All this makes me impatient. We need more probes, people! Let's get on it!
posted by Salieri at 8:08 AM on September 18, 2011


Enceladus is cool, undoubtedly, but Titan is the best moon. Titan could beat up Enceladus.
posted by Wolfdog at 8:17 AM on September 18, 2011


We need factories out there processing all those valuable hydrocarbons.
posted by sammyo at 8:18 AM on September 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Quibble, the TiME would not be studying an extraterrestrial "body of water." The seas of Titan are filled with hydrocarbons. Titan's rocks are made of water.
posted by localroger at 8:19 AM on September 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


So while there could indeed be life within the ocean of Europa, it is presently inaccessible.

Yes, attempt no landing there.
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:25 AM on September 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


There's a possible snowstorm of microbes on Enceladus

Oh, the weather outside is frightful...

...no, seriously. Actually, literally frightful.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 8:26 AM on September 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Quibble, the TiME would not be studying an extraterrestrial "body of water."

My bad, was being Earthist.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:28 AM on September 18, 2011


Porco. Not Poroco.
posted by Decani at 8:36 AM on September 18, 2011


Yeah, mod's have been contacted about name fix.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:43 AM on September 18, 2011


The Titan Mare Explorer is a low cost mission proposal, designed to land in a lake near Titan's north pole.

Apparently TiME would use 0.8 kg plutonium-238, but the production of Pu-238 has become a victim of budget shenanigans. I assume this jeopardizes the mission.
posted by homunculus at 9:17 AM on September 18, 2011






Low Cost? For 96 days?

Knowing NASA track record with this kind of mission, I can only say go for it!
posted by DreamerFi at 9:34 AM on September 18, 2011


COVER ME PORCO
posted by nathancaswell at 9:59 AM on September 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I didn't know that we were about to lose our Pu238 supply for RTGs and have to beg Russia for that too.

It's not so much a space race anymore, as it is two old runners swapping stories about the excitement of the 1968 Olympics and delving into the finer points of accounting.

Sadly close to the truth.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 10:09 AM on September 18, 2011


(that said, gimme more probes plz probes R awesome)
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 10:10 AM on September 18, 2011




Just as a note, TiME, if selected to be a NASA Discovery mission, will likely be using one or two new ASRGs (Advanced Stirling Radioisotope Generators) to reduce the amount of radioactive material involved.
posted by newdaddy at 6:52 PM on September 18, 2011


Also, here is the pdf from the TiME presentation to the Decadal Survey.
posted by newdaddy at 7:28 PM on September 18, 2011


Mmm...enchiladas.
posted by tumid dahlia at 9:35 PM on September 18, 2011






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