Saturn's moon Titan, which happens to be larger than the planet Mercury, is cold. Very cold. As in -290 degrees Fahrenheit is not out of the ordinary.
These super low temps, combined with an atmosphere roughly 1.5 times as dense as Earth's, have resulted in a few extraordinary bodies of liquid methane and ethane, reports Extreme Tech, and scientists are anxious to explore their depths.
(In fact, Titan is the only body aside from Earth to boast liquid lakes on its surface.) So NASA is working up a (very early) model of a submarine drone that could do just that—one that CNET reports will likely be nuclear-powered, weigh a ton, and come equipped with a seafloor camera, sampling system, and other fancy futuristic robotic accoutrements.
But don't get too excited just yet. First, this is a fully automated mission: "Even if it were possible for humans to go swimming in Titan's seas," notes CNET, it "would be something like swimming in a freezing ocean of liquefied natural gas." Hence, NASA's goal of sending the "highly capable science craft" to Titan's largest sea, Kraken Mare, around the year 2040, in what it calls "an unprecedented planetary exploration mission." Many details remain to be sorted out, including how to get the craft to Titan (Boeing's X-37 is a possibility), how to land it (parachute drop), and while there, how to communicate with Earthlings (planar phased-array antenna).
(Something else on Titan has been stumping NASA.)
This article originally appeared on Newser: NASA Wants to Send a Submarine to Saturn Moon
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