A bold new proposal to explore a distant, Earth-like moon
Saturn has more than 60 natural satellites. The largest of them is Titan, which hosts not only a thick atmosphere, but also seas and lakes and rivers comprised of methane (liquid hydrogen). Because of that, Titan -- though technically a moon -- is one of the most Earth-like bodies in the solar system.
Because of that, as well, Titan is an enticing target for human exploration. Scientists may debate whether Saturn's moon could actually support life; the atmosphere and surface liquids (not to mention a possible subsurface ocean) suggest a chance of it, while the frigid temperatures (-289 degrees Fahrenheit!) do not. Either way, though, the potential for such Titanic hospitality makes exploration of Saturn's moon an ongoing goal. NASA's Cassini mission has been sending intriguing images of the planet-like body, and, in January 2005, the European Space Agency's Huygens probe touched down on Titan's surface -- the first landing ever accomplished in our outer solar system. The vehicle transmitted about 90 minutes' worth of information -- including pretty spectacular images of drainage channels -- before going quiet.
Now a group of scientists, Space.com reports, is proposing a new mission to explore Titan -- this time by way of a floating probe that would land on one of the moon's many lakes. The rather awesomely named Titan Lake In-situ Sampling Propelled Explorer (TALISE) would be a modified boat that would be equipped to explore, over a relatively lengthy period of time, the methane fluidity of Titan's surface. TALISE, its design unveiled last week at the European Planetary Science Congress in Madrid, would be propelled by a combination of wheels, paddles, and screws, and would float atop Ligeia Mare -- Titan's largest lake, located near its north pole.