NSC PR — TILLAMOOK, OR — Near Space Corporation (NSC), a leading innovator of terrestrial and planetary exploration balloon technology, has received a Phase Two NASA Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) award to fund work that will help enable future airborne exploration of Saturn’s moon Titan. NSC’s winning proposal was among 85 selected from a total pool of 428 submissions.
This week in The Space Review…
Climate change and suborbital spaceflight
The same day that commercial spaceflight supporters were celebrating the development of Spaceport America, a new study concluded that suborbital flights that facility will host could alter the planetâ€™s climate. Jeff Foust examines the latest research and some of the issues associated with the study.
The mysteries of Titan
Thirty years ago this week Voyager 1 made the first close flyby of Titan, Saturnâ€™s largest moon and one of the most intriguing worlds in the solar system. Andrew LePage recounts the research into Titan and the planning that led up to that encounter.
Space solar powerâ€™s Indian connection
As the United States and India seek closer ties, should space-based solar power be on the agenda? Jeff Foust reports on developments in that field, including a new joint initiative supported by a former Indian president.
Russians take a spacewalk, Elon Musk meets the Colbert Nation, touring Titan’s Lake District, Mars News, ZombieSat attacks, and KSC turtle rescue.
NASA MISSION UPDATE
Planetary scientists have been puzzling for years over the honeycomb patterns and flat valleys with squiggly edges evident in radar images of Saturn’s moon Titan. Now, working with a “volunteer researcher” who has put his own spin on data from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, they have found some recognizable analogies to a type of spectacular terrain on Earth known as karst topography. A poster session today, Thursday, March 4, at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in The Woodlands, Texas, displays their work.
Bold New Missions to Jupiter and Saturn Planned
NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) are pushing ahead with proposals to send ambitious missions to explore Jupiter, Saturn and the many moons that circle both planets, the two space agencies announced Wednesday.
Data collected during several recent flybys of Titan by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft have put another arrow in the quiver of scientists who think the Saturnian moon contains active cryovolcanoes spewing a super-chilled liquid into its atmosphere. The information was released during a meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco, Calif.
“Cryovolcanoes are some of the most intriguing features in the solar system,” said Rosaly Lopes, a Cassini radar team investigation scientist from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “To put them in perspective – if Mount Vesuvius had been a cryovolcano, its lava would have frozen the residents of Pompeii.”
Titan Triple Threat
“Athena Coustenis, an astrophysicist and planetologist with the Paris Observatory, is helping draft a plan to send a hot air balloon to Titan, as well as an orbiting spacecraft and a surface probe. Called TSSM â€“ the Titan and Saturn System Mission â€“ this three-tiered approach to exploration could shed more light on the still-mysterious moon.”
â€œ’Titan is the best place to go with a balloon because of the atmosphere,’ says Coustenis. Although the atmosphere of Titan is filled with a smoggy orange hydrocarbon haze, it is primarily composed of nitrogen â€“ just like Earthâ€™s. In fact, Astrobiologists think Titanâ€™s atmosphere may be quite similar to how the Earthâ€™s was billions of years ago, before life on our planet generated oxygen.”
University of Granada Press Release
Physicists of the University of Granada and the University of Valencia (Spain) have developed a proceeding to analyse specific data sent by the Huygens probe from Titan, the largest moon of Saturn, proving â€œin an unequivocal wayâ€ that there is natural electric activity in its atmosphere.
The scientific community thinks that there is a higher probability that organic molecules precursors to life could form in those planets or satellites which have an atmosphere with electric storms.
Astrobiology Magazine has some interesting articles about possible life elsewhere in the Solar System….
“Layers of clay have been discovered in the martian highlands using the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The data indicate that liquid water was once widespread on early Mars.”
“Could tholins formed in Titanâ€™s atmosphere react with liquid water temporarily exposed by meteor impacts or ice volcanoes to produce potentially probiotic complex organic molecules – before the water freezes? Until this year, no one knew.
“Now, laboratory research by Catherine Neish, a graduate student working on her doctorate in planetary science at the University of Arizona, shows in the journal Astrobiology that, over a period of days, compounds similar to tholins can be hydrolyzed (i.e., react with water) at near-freezing temperatures.”
“New research is providing clues about the potential for life on Europa. By studying Europa’s surface, scientists hope to determine the best places to search for life and whether or not the moon is geologically active.”
NASA PRESS RELEASE
30 July 2008
NASA scientists have concluded that at least one of the large lakes observed on Saturn’s moon Titan contains liquid hydrocarbons, and have positively identified the presence of ethane. This makes Titan the only body in our solar system beyond Earth known to have liquid on its surface.
Scientists made the discovery using data from an instrument aboard the Cassini spacecraft. The instrument identified chemically different materials based on the way they absorb and reflect infrared light. Before Cassini, scientists thought Titan would have global oceans of methane, ethane and other light hydrocarbons. More than 40 close flybys of Titan by Cassini show no such global oceans exist, but hundreds of dark lake-like features are present. Until now, it was not known whether these features were liquid or simply dark, solid material.
“This is the first observation that really pins down that Titan has a surface lake filled with liquid,” said Bob Brown of the University of Arizona, Tucson. Brown is the team leader of Cassini’s visual and mapping instrument. The results will be published in the July 31 issue of the journal Nature.