One of the proposals for the next Discovery class robotic mission is called Titan Mare Explorer or TiME. Titan Mare Explorer would land a saucer shaped boat on one of Titan's liquid methane/ethane lakes.
If approved as the next Discovery mission, TiME would launch in 2016 for a seven year cruise to the Saturn system. In 2023, TiME would land on a methane/ethane sea on Titan's northern hemisphere called Ligeia Mare by parachute. The probe would spend at least three months floating about, taking measurements of the lake's temperature, as well as the atmospheric wind and humidity. Photographs would be taken of the lake's shores, the surface, and above at the methane/ethane clouds. With luck, TiME will be able to measure a rain storm such as has never been experienced before.
NASA and other space faring powers have landed numerous robotic probes on various bodies in the solar system, including the Huygens probe that hard landed on the land surface of Titan several years ago. TiME will be the first to splash down in an ocean on another planet, albeit an ocean that does not exist on the Earth.
Scientists have speculated that Titan's methane seas might actually harbor a form of life. These kinds of organisms would breath hydrogen instead of oxygen, which would react with acetylene instead of glucose and would exhale methane instead of carbon dioxide. If such life were ever detected, it would certainly not be as we know it, to coin the often used phrase from science fiction.
Currently the Cassini space probe is orbiting Saturn, taking the occasional measurement of Titan as it passes by. A joint NASA/European Space Agency mission, the Titan Saturn System Mission, has been proposed that would, among other things, place a probe in orbit around Titan, land a boat on one of the methane seas, and place a balloon in the planet's atmosphere. The TSSM has been indefinitely postponed in favor of a similar mission to the Jupiter system and its moon Europa.
TiME is competing with a Mars lander and a comet probe for funding. The final decision is due to take place in 2012.

Post a Comment

The Cosmos News Astronomy&Space Videos

LATEST NEWS VIDEOS

 
Top