Navigating the seas of Titan in a boat

Picture yourself in a boat on a river, with tangerine trees and marmalade skies...
October 5, 2012 by Amara D. Angelica

This rendering of the proposed TALISE probe shows one possible means of propulsion: paddle wheels on either side of the probe (credit: SENER)

NASA landed a rover on Mars. So what’s the next step? Right: land a boat on Titan!

Hey, come on, it’s gotta be the ultimate travel destiny:

  • A magical moon that’s actually more like a planet.
  • One of the most Earth-like bodies in the Solar System.
  • Has an atmosphere (OK, mostly nitrogen — so bring your own oxygen, stop kvetching).
  • A vast network of seas, lakes and rivers.

The perfect getaway. Quick, somebody get Richard Branson on the horn!

Just ask the scientists who ran the Cassini-Huygens mission, which studied Titan extensively in the 2000s. It confirmed that lakes, seas and mysterious rivers of liquid hydrocarbons exist, covering much of its northern hemisphere.

Now European explorers want to launch the Titan Lake In-situ Sampling Propelled Explorer (TALISE) — a quasi-mythical amphibious boat propelled by wheels, paddles or screws. (Engineers are presenting their proposals at the European Planetary Science Congress in Madrid on September 27.)

It would land in the middle of Ligeia Mare (the biggest lake, near Titan’s north pole), then boldly set sail for the coast, taking scientific measurements along the way, and presumably make some side trips to check out local attractions.

OK, Titan’s environment is too cold for life as we know it, but hey, its environment is rich in the building blocks of life, including organic compounds and well, ah, hydrogen cyanide (OK, that’s a problem, but never mind all that), which may have played a role in the emergence of life on Earth, so that’s a good thing, right?

An alternate design allegedly rejected by Europlanet. No word if the Blue Meanies have been sighted on Titan. (Credit: United Artists)