First Extraterrestrial Submarine

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Earth, Moon, Titan relative size comparison
Saturn’s moon, Titan, has a bulk super rotating stratosphere (LINK) which has the effect of homogenizing the temperature – which is cold by any standard. Weather on Titan that dips below -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. Titan is the only body in the Solar System beside Earth that has liquid lakes on its surface. This presents an opportunity to dive beneath the liquid lakes.
NASA is working up a (very early) model of a submarine drone that could do just that—one that will likely be nuclear-powered, weigh a ton, and come equipped with a seafloor camera, sampling system, and other fancy futuristic robotic accoutrements by 2040… which means that I will be dead by the time it gets there. 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).
More information about Titan’s atmosphere is available from Ashima Research (here).

16 thoughts on “First Extraterrestrial Submarine

  1. oh man, I love that second picture. Blows my mind to imagine Saturn rising over the horizon!
    Maybe humans would be more humble if we had enormous planets hovering in our sky reminding us how small and insignificant we are. Maybe our problem is how tiny our moon appears. (When I get to heaven, I'll point out God's error to him.)

  2. My question would be whether the sub could survive those temps… Always the issue, and when you through differential pressure into the equation, it gets really interesting!

  3. The thought had crossed my mind. And maybe the Anglican Church of Canada (ACoC) too. That's been missing for quite some time now.

  4. The problem with being the moon of a large planet is that it's tidally locked (it doesn't spin) and that creates some interesting problems – which are somewhat solved with a super rotating atmosphere. You're from Texas. God will listen.

  5. Nuclear energy would keep the sub warm – and the pressure issues are interesting, but we do know a lot about Titan from the Cassini spacecraft. Ashima Research has the NASA contract for atmospheric research on Titan.

  6. I can't help but wonder what will happen when a submarine that is warmer than the ambient -290 starts swimming around? Will the Methane around it boil off – and what will that do to sensors?

  7. "For I dipped into the future, far as human eye could see,
    Saw the Vision of the world, and all the wonder that would be;

    Saw the heavens fill with commerce, argosies of magic sails,
    Pilots of the purple twilight, dropping down with costly bales;

    Heard the heavens fill with shouting, and there rained a ghastly dew
    From the nations' airy navies grappling in the central blue;"

    –Alfred Tennyson

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