Robot submarine could be used to explore methane sea on Saturn’s moon, say scientists


A robotic submarine could be used to study liquid methane sea on Titan, Saturn’s natural satellite. According to astronomers at Cornell University, Kraken Mare, which is Titan’s largest liquid methane body, could be explored using a robotic submarine because of its striking similarities with water bodies on planet Earth. Scientists have reached the hypothesis after going through loads of data collected during one of the final Titan flybys of the Cassini probe. 

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“The depth and composition of each of Titan’s seas had already been measured, except for Titan’s largest sea, Kraken Mare – which not only has a great name but also contains about 80% of the moon’s surface liquids,” lead author Valerio Poggiali, a research associate in Cornell Center for Astrophysics and Planetary Science (CCAPS), in the College of Arts and Sciences, said in a statement

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1,000 feet deep

The astronomers published their findings in the Journal of Geophysical Research earlier last month. Scientists studied the data from spacecraft’s radar that had surveyed Ligeia Mare, a smaller sea on the moon’s northern polar region, on August 21, 2014. Scientists have figured out the depth of the sea by noting the Cassini radar’s return time differences on the liquid surface and sea bottom during the 2014 probe. Scientists have estimated the depth of Kraken Mare to be 1,000 feet. 

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“In the distant future, a submarine – likely without a mechanical engine – will visit and cruise Kraken Mare. Thanks to our measurements, scientists can now infer the density of the liquid with higher precision, and consequently better calibrate the sonar aboard the vessel and understand the sea’s directional flows,” Poggiali said. Cassini, which spent 13 years orbiting Saturn, was launched in 1997 by NASA, European Space Agency, and the Italian Space Agency. The Cassini mission also included a Huygens module that landed on the surface of Titan in 2005. The probe continued to send data back to Earth for about 90 minutes before it lost contact. 

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