Hello, friends! Welcome to Our Place in Space: A to Z! For this year’s A to Z Challenge, I’ll be taking you on a partly imaginative and highly optimistic tour of humanity’s future in outer space. If you don’t know what the A to Z Challenge is, click here to learn more. In today’s post, K is for…
Earth is a pretty special place, what with all this liquid water covering our planet’s surface. You won’t find that much liquid water on the surface of any other planet or moon in the Solar System (underground, maybe, but not on the surface). In a similar way, Titan is a special place. Titan, the largest moon of Saturn, is covered with lakes and rivers of liquid hydrocarbons, a mix of mostly liquid methane and liquid ethane. You won’t find that much liquid methane/ethane on the surface of any other world in the Solar System.
Kraken Mare is the largest body of… I wanted to say the largest body of water, but that wouldn’t be right, would it? Kraken Mare is the largest body of liquid hydrocarbons on Titan. Take all five of North America’s Great Lakes, combine them together—that’s how large Kraken Mare is. Titan is much smaller than Earth, so Kraken Mare ends up being an enormous surface feature, sprawling across part of Titan’s northern hemisphere.
And nobody knows how deep Kraken Mare is. Scientists were able to measure the depth of every other lake on Titan using RADAR data collected by the Cassini space probe, but the data for Kraken Mare was inconclusive. This means either that Kraken Mare is too deep for Cassini’s RADAR equipment to measure, or some unknown substance at the bottom of Kraken Mare absorbed Cassini’s RADAR pings, limiting the data Cassini was able to collect. Either way, wouldn’t it be fascinating to know what’s down there?
NASA seems to think so, and there are proposals on the table to send some sort of robotic submarine to Titan, to explore Kraken Mare further. This is another of those space missions that is not actually happening yet. It has not been approved by NASA. It does not have the funding to go forward. But still, it’s an idea that scientists are working on, trying to figure out if it’s feasible, with the hope that someday they can make it happen.
Could there be life on Titan? Maybe. Some astrobiologists clearly think it’s possible, though they probably aren’t expecting to find an actual kraken at the bottom of Kraken Mare. Just some single-celled organisms doing some strange, alternative form of organic chemistry. Still, that possibility is there, and it’s another reason why diving to the bottom of Kraken Mare seems like a good idea.
Fortunately, NASA has approved a new mission to explore Titan. Unfortunately, this new mission does not include a submarine, and it won’t be going anywhere near Kraken Mare. Instead, the Dragonfly rotorcraft (a robotic mini-helicopter) will explore Titan’s Shangri-La region, a mysteriously dark colored region near Titan’s equator.
Meanwhile, the proposal to put a robotic submarine in Kraken Mare is still on the table. Sooner or later, that mission is going to happen. I’m sure of it. Kraken Mare is simply too big and too mysterious for us humans to leave it unexplored.
Want to Learn More?
Here’s a short article from NASA, which includes a short video, on the Titan Submarine proposal.
And here’s a longer piece from EarthSky.org with more details about Kraken Mare and how we might one day explore its depths.