Tag Archives: exploration

THE TRUTH MUST BE GREATER THAN FICTION

YES!

Yes I would do this…

YEAH BUDDY!

YES!!!

I’ve been advocating for exploring the oceans of other worlds for years. And I’ve written fictional stories about it. Very, very good to see them preparing.

 

In a sneak peek of a possible future mission to Saturn’s moon Titan, NASA has showcased their vision of a robotic submersible that could explore the moon’s vast lakes of liquid methane and ethane.

VIDEO: Can a Moon be Older Than its Planet?

Studying Titan is thought to be looking back in time at an embryonic Earth, only a lot colder. Titan is the only moon in the solar system to have a significant atmosphere and this atmosphere is known to possess its own methane cycle, like Earth’s water cycle. Methane exists in a liquid state, raining down on a landscape laced with hydrocarbons, forming rivers, valleys and seas.

Several seas have been extensively studied by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft during multiple flybys, some of which average a few meters deep, whereas others have depths of over 200 meters (660 feet) — the maximum depth at which Cassini’s radar instrument can penetrate.

So, if scientists are to properly explore Titan, they must find a way to dive into these seas to reveal their secrets.

ANALYSIS: Cassini Watches Clouds Blow Over Titan’s Sea

At this year’s Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Symposium, a Titan submarine concept was showcased by NASA Glenn’s COMPASS Team and researchers from Applied Research Lab.

Envisaged as a possible mission to Titan’s largest sea, Kracken Mare, the autonomous submersible would be designed to make a 90 day, 2,000 kilometer (1,250 mile) voyage exploring the depths of this vast and very alien marine environment. As it would spend long periods under the methane sea’s surface, it would have to be powered by a radioisotope generator; a source that converts the heat produced by radioactive pellets into electricity, much like missions that are currently exploring space, like Cassini and Mars rover Curiosity.

Communicating with Earth would not be possible when the vehicle is submerged, so it would need to make regular ascents to the surface to transmit science data.

ANALYSIS: Cassini Spies Wind-Rippled Sea on Titan

But Kracken Mare is not a tranquil lake fit for gentle sailing — it is known to have choppy waves and there is evidence of tides, all contributing to the challenge. Many of the engineering challenges have already been encountered when designing terrestrial submarines — robotic and crewed — but as these seas will be extremely cold (estimated to be close to the freezing point of methane, 90 Kelvin or -298 degrees Fahrenheit), a special piston-driven propulsion system will need to be developed and a nitrogen will be needed as ballast, for example.

This study is just that, a study, but the possibility of sending a submersible robot to another world would be as unprecedented as it is awesome.

Although it’s not clear at this early stage what the mission science would focus on, it would be interesting to sample the chemicals at different depths of Kracken Mare.

ANALYSIS: Titan’s ‘Magic Island’ Appeared Mysteriously From the Depths

“Measurement of the trace organic components of the sea, which perhaps may exhibit prebiotic chemical evolution, will be an important objective, and a benthic sampler (a robotic grabber to sample sediment) would acquire and analyze sediment from the seabed,” the authors write (PDF). “These measurements, and seafloor morphology via sidescan sonar, may shed light on the historical cycles of filling and drying of Titan’s seas. Models suggest Titan’s active hydrological cycle may cause the north part of Kraken to be ‘fresher’ (more methane-rich) than the south, and the submarine’s long traverse will explore these composition variations.”

A decade after the European Huygens probe landed on the surface of Titan imaging the moon’s eerily foggy atmosphere, there have been few plans to go back to this tantalizing world. It would be incredible if, in the next few decades, we could send a mission back to Titan to directly sample what is at the bottom of its seas, exploring a region where the molecules for life’s chemistry may be found in abundance.

HAPPY TRAILS

My Top Five: The Best Mountain Bike Trails in the CSRA

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I’m proud to call the the Central Savannah River Area, or CSRA, my home. The CSRA is the the area surrounding Augusta, GA and North Augusta, SC and it’s home to some of the best, least-expected mountain biking in the southeast. I say least expected because we don’t have any mountains here. We’ve got hills, but no mountains. But boy oh boy do we have trails, about 150 miles of them actually, with more in the works. We have many of these trails because of the local MTB club, SORBA-CSRA. SORBA-CSRA has done such a good job in this area that in 2010 IMBA held their biannual World Summit here. So if you’re looking for a place to take a spring MTB trip, give the CSRA a look. In this blog post you’ll find my five favorite trails in the area, in no particular order.

FATS: Forks Area Trail System (SC)

FATS, located in the Sumter National Forest in SouthCarolina,is the crown jewel of the CSRA mountain bike scene, and the only IMBA Epic in South Carolina. It’s 37 miles of fast, swoopy, roller coaster like purpose built mountain bike trails. There are six individual loops, each with a slightly different feel and the trails will satisfyboth beginners and experienced riders alike. There is very little technical terrain at FATS so anyone can ride here and likely clean every inch of trail. What makes this trail fun is the speed – it’s easy to get, and easy to keep. But you do have to be careful with all that speed: there’s a bunch whoop-de-doos that will throw you over the handlebars if you’re not careful.


Riders cruising through some whoop-de-doos on the Deep Step loop at FATS

Mistletoe State Park (GA)

Mistletoe is the anti-FATS. It’s the most technical trail in the CSRA. The trail was not built for mountain biking, even though bikes are allowed now. There are lots of creek crossings – some are easy, some are not. There’s some rocks, and some steep climbs. The trails can be a little confusing your first time out so I suggest looking for a local to show you around. The Rock Dam and Cliatt Creek Nature Trail are the most popular rides, and most locals link them together to form a loop around 6.5 miles long, with a lot of climbing for this area. Mistletoe is the western most portion of the big Thurmond Epic route.


One of the deeper creek crossings at Mistletoe State Park

Modoc (aka Stevens Creek)(SC)

Modoc is another technical trail, for the CSRA at least. Located in Sumter National Forest, the Modoc trail roughly follows Steven’s Creek and has some nice scenic views. Several ditch and creek crossings keep you on your toes on this 6-mile out and back trail. Between the technical bits Modoc is pretty fast and smooth. There is plenty of really nice bench cut singletrack that has been in place for decades and it’s a lot of fun to ride. Locals link Modoc to the Turkey and Wine Creek trails for longer routes.


Only 1/4 mile from the parking lot is one of Modoc’s most memorable creek crossings. Photo: brianW

Bartram (GA)

The Bartram trail is one of the least technical trails in the area, but it’s also one of the longest. The trail is an out and back stretching from the West Dam Recreational Area west all the way to Washington Road, and it’s 22.5 miles one way! The trail runs right through the Petersburg Campground, making Petersburg a great place to stay if you’re planning a visit to theCSRA to ride.

East of Petersburg is known as “old Bartram” to the locals and it is the least challenging side. It is very flat, smooth, and very fast if you want it to be; a great place to take the kids riding. West of Petersburg, or “new Bartram” is a little tougher, with some climbing, whoop-de-doos, and a few technical challenges. The entire trail hugs the shores of Lake Thurmond and has lots of nice views. Bartram is the biggest chunk of the Thurmond Epic route.


There’s something special about lakeside singletrack. Photo: brianW

Canal Trail (GA)

This is probably going to a controversial pick as a Top Five trail but hey, it’s my list and I love the canal trail! It’s a very short 2.8 mile loop inside the city limits of Augusta. This is the only trail in the area that’s within easy riding distance from a large population area. It sits on a small piece ofland between the Savannah River and the Augusta Canal. To make the best use of the land the trail is very tight and twisty, making it a great place to work on your cornering skills. There aren’t any big climbs, but there are a few short steep rooty grunts that can test your skills.It’s a little trail, but it is big on fun!


That’s me, playing hookie from work and enjoying the canal trail on a sunny Friday afternoon in the spring. Don’t tell my boss.