Many decades later, NASA is putting The Beatles to shame with their take on a super trippy submarine.
Researchers from Washington State University are working with the space agency to develop a vehicle that could explore Titan’s mysterious methane and ethane oceans, which can drop as low as -300 degrees Fahrenheit (about -184 degrees Celsius). It’s a seriously ambitious effort, but the team is hoping to send the submarine to Titan at some time in the next 20 years. All things considered, that’s not that far away.
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“Titan is the only known celestial body in our solar system other than Earth with stable liquid seas on its surface,” the team writes in a paper about their research, which has been published in the journal Fluid Phase Equilibria. “The thermodynamic properties of Titan’s seas have not been well characterized. This work investigates the solubility of nitrogen in varying liquid methane-ethane compositions and the effects of dissolved nitrogen on the density of the sea.”
Researchers at WSU’s cryogenic lab created a test chamber with super cold liquid to simulate the extreme conditions in Titan’s seas. The team then had to come up with an inventive solution for filming what was going on in their creation, since the combination of extremely low temperature and high pressure made recording nearly impossible.
Thankfully, by using a borescope — an optical tool used to investigate hard-to-reach places in home repairs — the team was able to record the simulated “rain” inside the test chamber.
While there’s clearly a lot more work to be done in order to develop something that could survive the harsh conditions on Titan, this is a significant first step. There’s so much to learn about the unusual moon, which is kind of like Earth on a bad acid trip. Like our planet, it has a water cycle, except the water is actually just methane, and that’s just one example of the frightening similarities.
We wish the intrepid researchers and their (eventual) space submarine all the best. Please launch soon.