Feeds

Boffins plan Titanic balloon trip

Floating insights into Saturnian moon

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

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
SCREW YOU, Russia! NASA lobs $6.8bn at Boeing AND SpaceX to run space station taxis
Musk charging nearly half as much as Boeing for crew trips
Boffins say they've got Lithium batteries the wrong way around
Surprises at the nano-scale mean our ideas about how they charge could be all wrong
Thought that last dinosaur was BIG? This one's bloody ENORMOUS
Weighed several adult elephants, contend boffins
Edge Research Lab to tackle chilly LOHAN's final test flight
Our US allies to probe potential Vulture 2 servo freeze
Europe prepares to INVADE comet: Rosetta landing site chosen
No word yet on whether backup site is labelled 'K'
India's MOM Mars mission makes final course correction
Mangalyaan probe will feel the burn of orbital insertion on September 24th
Cracked it - Vulture 2 power podule fires servos for 4 HOURS
Pixhawk avionics juice issue sorted, onwards to Spaceport America
City hidden beneath England's Stonehenge had HUMAN ABATTOIR. And a pub
Boozed-up ancients drank beer before tearing corpses apart
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.
Security and trust: The backbone of doing business over the internet
Explores the current state of website security and the contributions Symantec is making to help organizations protect critical data and build trust with customers.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.