Jupiter and its moons or Titan, Jupiter and its moons or Titan...

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Hmm...which mission would be better?

In February, NASA and European Space Agency officials will meet in Washington, DC, to decide between two missions to the outer solar system.
Should they aim for Saturn's moon Titan, or send a pair of orbiters to explore Jupiter and some of its satellites?

That's a tough one. Jupiter and its moons haven't been explored for a while and Europa is definitely a high-profile target as a possible host for life. On the other hand to really explore Europa you'd need to send something capable of exploring the ocean, and a mission like that is just hard to do. I'm leaning towards a mission to Titan simply because of how fascinating a location it is given its atmosphere, as there really aren't any places besides Titan left that are of terrestrial size with an atmosphere to study in detail. Venus and Mars have been studied by dozens of probes and the only other places with atmospheres aren't similar to Earth at all, but Titan is like a little terrestrial planet of its own.

Both missions would be great of course, so I'm not saying that the Jupiter probe is a bad idea. Maybe another country (Japan/China) could send a probe to Jupiter of a more basic design to tide us over in the meantime, even if it's not capable of determining whether Europa has life.

In a few years Kepler should have found for us a few extrasolar candidates for life anyway. Oh, and we still haven't thoroughly checked out the cloudtops of Venus for life either.


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