Feeds

Boffins plan Titanic balloon trip

Floating insights into Saturnian moon

Next gen security for virtualised datacentres

Scientists are drafting a plan to further explore Saturnian moon Titan, involving an orbiting spacecraft, surface probe and hot-air balloon designed to float gracefully through the body's hazy hydrocarbon atmosphere, Space.com reports.

Titan has to date revealed some of its secrets to the Cassini spacecraft and Huygens probe, including liquid hydrocarbon lakes and some turbulent atmospheric conditions.

However, while Cassini's radar and infrared instruments have offered tantalising glimpses of Titan, much remains to be explored.

Hence the proposed three-pronged attack by the Titan and Saturn System Mission (TSSM). Athena Coustenis, an astrophysicist and planetologist with the Paris Observatory who's involved in drafting the plan, said: "We need a Titan-dedicated orbiter because after four years of Cassini, we still haven't mapped more than 25 per cent of Titan's surface. When you see the diversity the moon has, you realize it needs full-coverage mapping. And we can have a polar orbiter, whereas Cassini only passes by Titan on the ecliptic."

Second up comes the surface probe - possibly a helicopter-style mobile unit fitted with floats to prevent it sinking beneath Titan's hydrocarbon waves. Coustenis explained: "Huygens was designed as a descent module, and there were no instruments designed to do surface science after landing. If you ask me what the dunes are made of, I don't know. The only way to find out what the surface is made of is to go touch it, sample it, and have a laboratory there that will analyze all the samples."

The ballooning jaunt, meanwhile, offers the prospect of a really good sniff of Titan's atmosphere - mainly made up of nitrogen and of particular interest to scientists because it may be similar to that on Earth billions of years ago, before oxygen generation kicked in.

The TSSM might also offer further insights into fellow Saturnian moon Enceledus, earlier this year subjected to an "in-your-face" flypast by Cassini which revealed a "surprising organic brew" erupting from its south polar region comprising "volatile gases, water vapour, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide, as well as organic materials".

The TSSM, meanwhile, is up for evaluation by ESA and NASA who will in 2009 choose between the Titan ballooning trip and a mission to Jupiter and its moon Europa for a slated 2020 outer planets mission.

The TSSM may be technically innovative and therefore risky, but Coustenis insisted: "Why would we want to have a new mission unless we were going to do something original with it? This mission is challenging, but it's do-able. Even if it is a crazy idea, we shouldn't keep sending the same kinds of missions out there." ®

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
Our LOHAN spaceplane ballocket Kickstarter climbs through £8000
Through 25 per cent but more is needed: Get your UNIQUE rewards!
LOHAN tunes into ultra long range radio
And verily, Vultures shall speak status unto distant receivers
NASA to reformat Opportunity rover's memory from 125 million miles away
Interplanetary admins will back up data and get to work
SpaceX prototype rocket EXPLODES over Texas. 'Tricky' biz, says Elon Musk
No injuries or near injuries. Flight stayed in designated area
EOS, Lockheed to track space junk from Oz
WA facility gets laser-eyes out of the fog
Volcanic eruption in Iceland triggers CODE RED aviation warning
Lava-spitting Bárðarbunga prompts action from Met Office
LOHAN Kickstarter breaks NINETEEN THOUSAND of your EARTH POUNDS
That's right, OVER 9,000 beer tokens - and counting
prev story

Whitepapers

Endpoint data privacy in the cloud is easier than you think
Innovations in encryption and storage resolve issues of data privacy and key requirements for companies to look for in a solution.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Advanced data protection for your virtualized environments
Find a natural fit for optimizing protection for the often resource-constrained data protection process found in virtual environments.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.