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Space Science

Titan Balloon Mission Being Drafted 82

eldavojohn writes "After Huygens & Cassini corrected our assumptions about Titan (a moon of Saturn), scientists are now debating about their next mission, and one of the choices is the Titan and Saturn System Mission. What makes Titan a good choice? 'Although the atmosphere of Titan is filled with a smoggy orange hydrocarbon haze, it is primarily composed of nitrogen — just like Earth's. In fact, Astrobiologists think Titan's atmosphere may be quite similar to how the Earth's was billions of years ago, before life on our planet generated oxygen.' We also discussed its liquid hydrocarbons earlier this year."
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Titan Balloon Mission Being Drafted

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  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @11:20AM (#25721643) Journal
    I think they might be in need of some Democracy... American style.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Andr T. (1006215)
      Yeah, look at all that poisonous gas. I'm sure everyone will agree that's more than one WMD.
    • by mfh (56)

      You might joke around, but many believe that life is everywhere, we just have to open our eyes wide enough to see and understand it, in order to effectively exploit it for industry. Sadly no form of politics will be powerful enough to impose order on predisposed societies of creatures, at whatever perceived stage of evolution they may be in. You may as well try to impose martial law on cockroaches, or dolphins. Good luck with that.

      Saturn could have life? Maybe in the future if we start exporting transformin

      • by Andr T. (1006215)

        And you know that EVERYTHING either tastes like chicken or it tastes like beef or it tastes like something inedible.

        Hmmmmmmm... chicken... tasty! Can't wait to get a box of good old Titanic Fry Chicken.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Shakrai (717556)

        The only hope that ET will have is if he walks upright and can carry stuff (tools, supplies, materials) in our forced labor camps.

        What if he walks upright, has more advanced technology and we taste like chicken?

        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by MrNaz (730548) *

          Not possible. If we tasted like chicken cannibalism would be more common.

        • by tnk1 (899206)

          Awesome, now I can finally make a a few bucks selling my relatives to the alien food processing plants!

          Er... did I say that out loud?

        • by Andr T. (1006215)
          It could be worse. We could taste like bacon [].

          OMG we're doomed!!!!

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          Actually, we taste like pork.




          Or at least so they say []

          • which has long bacon, long ham and of course the extras go into...

            long sausage

        • by evanbd (210358)
          He won't be interested in us; we're made of meat [], after all.
        • Everybody knows we taste like pigs. That's why in the language of some cannibals, the name for that kind of meat was "long pig".

          I guess Homer Simpson was not so wrong after all. :P

          About the more advanced technology.... Mmmmmhhh... long pig....! ;)

        • Then we would have a Twilight Zone episode. []
      • Re:Democratic (Score:5, Insightful)

        by speroni (1258316) on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @12:12PM (#25722507) Homepage

        Actually... there are many more millions of chickens and cows around because they are delicious than there would be otherwise.

        If chickens and cows weren't useful to use we wouldn't raise them by the millions/billions. The animals that are endangered are the ones that are simply in the way of our farms. We cut down the rain forests filled with unknown species in the name of planting corn.

        If we did find another habitable planet one of the first things we would do is work on clearing land for crops to grow.

        After that once we get enough grazing land under control.... space cows.

        • I, for one, welcome Space Cows. They won't be Overlords, but they will be a necessary step in producing Space Icecream. Frozen naturally in the cold of space, inside a pressurized container, producing that fluffy texture that only Zero Gravity can create.
        • by derblack (1076557)
          Titan, where the Buggalo roam...
      • Re:Democratic (Score:5, Insightful)

        by db32 (862117) on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @12:13PM (#25722523) Journal
        Now, to a degree I can sympathize, but survival of the fittest! I bet you don't take the same bleeding heart approach towards the myraid of viruses that can wipe out huge swathes of our population with little notice and have done so over the past. Thus far we have survived these onslaughts and either outright destroyed the competing lifeform or contained it. The universe is not some shiney happy place where man, chicken, and cow all hold hands and sing kumbaya while they all starve to death because they are too upset to eat anything that is alive. Nature is a vicious vicious thing. Go look at sea creatures that have had a much longer time to compete in their environment. The deadliest toxins in the world are from sea critters. A jelly fish the size of your fingernail can kill you in a frighteningly short time span. Humans developed technology to fill the evolutionary gap of things like not having necrotic claws, venomous bites, stingers, etc. You either adapt and survive or die. Humans are not immune to this law.

        This does not justify treating animals like shit because we eat them. But every time some hippy shit points out that stupid hollywood asshole's movie about farms I want to beat their heads in with a cattle prod. I have been around a great number of farms growing up and NONE of them were like that. I have no doubt that there are shitty commercial farms that do behave that way, but it is most certainly not the norm.

        Raising animals to be eaten is not even remotely the same thing as animal cruelty. Even come slaughter time most of those animals are treated more humanely than they would be in the wild. We at least give them a quick death. I seriously doubt that pack of wolves cares much about how long it takes the animal to die or how much it suffers while they start tearing its flesh off.
    • by wisebabo (638845) on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @12:22PM (#25722673) Journal

      In biologist Peter Ward's book "LIFE AS WE DO NOT KNOW IT" he holds out the possibility that there might be THREE radically different kinds of life on Titan.

      One might be related to, or if we're not careful with contamination, might be the same as our DNA based "CHON" (Carbon, Hydrogen, Oxygen and Nitrogen) life. They would presumably live on the surface feeding on the hydrocarbons drifting down from the sky; similar to our methanogens or other chemo-trophic bacteria on earth.

      Another kind of life might be something a "little" different (but still really unlike anything seen on earth, life that uses AMMONIUM as its working fluid as opposed to our life which uses water. (It would presumably live in the ammonium ocean speculated to beneath the ice) that forms Titan's surface. It's only a "little" different because it would still be basically be CHON life but who knows what its metabolism would run on?

      Finally he even mentions the possibility of a SILICON based life (as opposed to our carbon based life). No, unlike the star trek Horta from "Devil in the Dark', it needn't live deep underground. Instead it would life in some of the ethane-methane lakes at the surface (which would be capable of making the silicon soluble and would substitue in for carbon I guess). So all of life's components; fats, sugars, proteins, RNA and DNA would use silicon as a major structural component. Now that's different!

      For these admittedly extremely speculative reasons he suggests Titan should be just as high on our priority list of places to visit as Mars. Instead of sending a geologist-paleontologist (as he would to mars) he recommends sending a biochemist to Titan. Anyway if they found even ONE of the three kinds of life there, it would (even if they were just micro-organisms) be an incredible discovery. Of course because of Titan's distance it'll be a long while before we can put a human there, maybe we'll have to wait for A.I.


  • by Hoplite3 (671379) on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @11:20AM (#25721645)

    I have several candidates in mind for those ...capable... of piloting a balloon through a poisonous atmosphere into a poison sea.

  • So... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Corpuscavernosa (996139) on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @11:21AM (#25721679)
    ... that'd be a hell of a long trip in a balloon and it seems that ya really wouldn't even need the balloon part in space, being no air and all. Maybe put some rockets or somethin' on the basket. I guess you could git the balloon out again once entering Titan's atmosphere but ya know, I just don't geddit!
  • Terraforming (Score:3, Insightful)

    by dogmatixpsych (786818) on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @11:22AM (#25721683) Homepage Journal
    Maybe we could seed the moon to terraform it. Since we don't have the ability yet to do terraforming like in science fiction, we might be able to put various carbon compounds or other substances to change the concentration of atmospheric compounds to make it more amenable for life.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Shakrai (717556)

      we might be able to put various carbon compounds or other substances to change the concentration of atmospheric compounds to make it more amenable for life.

      The atmosphere is only part of the problem though. Titan's distance from the Sun limits the amount of energy that the moon receives -- the negative 292 degree temperatures (F) would seem to be an issue even if the atmosphere was completely Earth like.

    • by Andr T. (1006215)
      First, you have to discover Genetic Mutations []. It costs a lot of RP, though.
  • by Baruch Atta (1327765) on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @11:22AM (#25721689)
    "...Although the atmosphere of Titan is filled with a smoggy orange hydrocarbon haze..."
    Just like L.A. Let's go there.
    • Hey, our air quality is a hell of a lot better now. I can't even remember the last time we had a smog alert.

      P.S. I like your slashdot login. Shalom!

  • Tell our cousins we said hello and to visit Earth, religulous fanatics miss them.
  • Hey did I miss something I thought it was 2008? Where did you get all the extra zeros? :-D
  • that those really hot women(Sirens if you will) on Titan are just statues.....
  • Does NASA really think that the people of Titan will believe that the UFO flying over their methane fields was really just a weather balloon!?

    Get Dennis Kucinich on the job!

  • I read the title as "Selective Service being reinstated for mandatory mission to Saturn's moon"

  • by dachshund (300733) on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @12:35PM (#25722909)

    Any chance we could delay the Titan mission and instead deploy an infrared telescope to study the asteroid belt? This would not only provide us with valuable scientific knowledge, but would also give us a chance to detect earth-bound asteroids with enough time to perhaps do something about them. My understanding is that Congress has specifically asked NASA to prioritize such a mission, but the directive has mostly been ignored.

    This is too bad, since there's a non-trivial chance of a serious impact in the next couple of centuries. Nothing we learn about TItan will do us much good if we're dead.

    • by CheshireCatCO (185193) on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @12:48PM (#25723123) Homepage

      Asteroid belt objects are unlikely to hit the Earth during the course of the human race's existence. They're in fairly stable, roughly circular orbits that don't cross Earth's orbit. You're more worried about NON-Belt asteroids and, perhaps more so, comets.

      In any case, it isn't a zero-sum game: funding Titan research doesn't mean that asteroids don't get studied.

      Meanwhile, we *do* have projects to catalog all such asteroids *and* a mission to the asteroid belt in play right now. So what's your complaint?

      • by dachshund (300733)

        Meanwhile, we *do* have projects to catalog all such asteroids *and* a mission to the asteroid belt in play right now. So what's your complaint?

        This: []

        • Yet contrary to that article, NASA's NEO site claims it's work is well underway and will be completed in a decade. (No mention of needing an ultra-expensive new mission, in fact.) Putting a telescope around Venus sound ridiculously expensive and wasteful. (And rather like yet another reporter at New Scientist was trying to hype a non-story, if you ask me.)

    • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

      by u38cg (607297)
      There are two problems with this. (1) Space is pretty big and something big enough to hurt us is relatively small. We're unlikely to spot it until it's too late to do anything but rape the nearest moderately attractive person. (2) What are you going to do about it anyway? We have exactly zero realistic options for dealing with something like this other than raping the nearest moderately attractive person.
    • by khallow (566160) on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @01:10PM (#25723467)

      Any chance we could delay the Titan mission and instead deploy an infrared telescope to study the asteroid belt? This would not only provide us with valuable scientific knowledge, but would also give us a chance to detect earth-bound asteroids with enough time to perhaps do something about them. My understanding is that Congress has specifically asked NASA to prioritize such a mission, but the directive has mostly been ignored.

      You are asking for several things. The asteroids that may cause problems for the Earth do not reside in the asteroid belt though they may pass through it. Further, a single telescope isn't enough, if you're scanning for dangerous asteroids with an eye to provide advanced warning.

      Second, a "serious impact" is not extinction level serious. It might mean a small chance of an end of a city, but those people would have died of something anyway.

      Finally, there's plenty of indication that in ten or twenty years, we'll be far better prepared to scan for threatening asteroids. I don't think it's sound policy to throw vast sums at such a modest threat, when a little bit of time will drive those costs down.

    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      There already are several telescopes dedicated soley to studying and discovering asteroids. We currently discover about three times as many asteroids per year as we did 10 years ago, and probably about 10 times as many as we did 15 years ago. In the first six months of 2008, we discovered on average one every ~11 hours.

      At the same time, we've also already discovered most of the asteroids a kilometer in diameter or bigger. Despite the improved instrumentation and computer automated searching, only 12 such
    • by coldtone (98189)

      We should be doing both. Hell we should have missions going on right now to all of the interesting and reachable planets. Cassini cost 3.26 billion. Even at 100 x this the cost is still manageable. So why not send out 100?

      Probe, balloons, rovers, subs, do it all!

      There is so much to learn that would impact everything we know today. In my view it would be a great investment.

  • I thought they brought Hergé back fromt he dead for a second.
  • "We need a Titan-dedicated orbiter because after four years of Cassini, we still haven't mapped more than 25 percent of Titan's surface," says Coustenis. "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."

    Er, what? We've mapped the entire surface, although not all at great resolution. And I'm not remotely clear what she means about the orbit. I know she can't mean that Cassini only p

    • But you forgot, CC, apparently the rest of the Cassini forgets that ISS exists when it comes to Titan. If they remembered we exist, they would know that we have mapped 85% of the surface (or thereabouts).
  • Titan vs. Europa (Score:3, Informative)

    by Dr. Scatterplot (1371103) on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @12:51PM (#25723179)
    The balloon aspect is indeed cool, especially since the balloon will communicate by radio with a raft floating in one of Titan's methane/ethane lakes, and an orbiter that will solve some of the mysteries Cassini has revealed. The other mission being studied would explore the Galilean satellites, tackling questions raised by the Galileo orbiter beginning more than a decade ago. Given its abundant tidal heating, possible surface oxidation by solar wind particles (think food), liquid water ocean, and possible hydrothermal systems, Jupiter's moon Europa may be a better target in the search for life. Here are the mission descriptions from NASA, with links to the details: [] []
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by CheshireCatCO (185193)

      The major problem with the Galilean moons, however, is that they liquid is 1 km or more below the surface. That means that anything you see on the surface is an indirect measure of the liquid underneath. They're interesting bodies, but they are harder to study in many respects.

  • "I reviewed your flight plan. Not one error in a million keystrokes. Phenomenal. It's right that someone like you is taking us to Titan."
  • Nevermind the tiny Titan. How much organics are there in Saturn, Uranus and Jupiter?
  • Why not a lighter than air balloon? A canister of compressed hydrogen gas could fill a balloon. It would eventually leak out but how long would the scientific instruments last? Alternatively a probe sent to analyze the hydrocarbon makeup could precede a craft powered by fuel cells since there is apparently a large hydrocarbon component of the atmosphere. If the atmosphere is dense enough perhaps a fuel cell powered winged aircraft would work.

Computers can figure out all kinds of problems, except the things in the world that just don't add up.