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Cassini Thread

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  • User profile image
    jsrfc58

    Although this topic is not Microsoft related, I thought I would bring it up anyway since it is a more or less a historic moment and technologically significant.  As the Cassini spacecraft begins it orbit around Saturn, my next question is this: is there any plutonium onboard the Huygens craft?  I thought I read some time ago that there was 70+ pounds of it on the Cassini craft itself (to be used for energy since it is so far away from the sun).  The reason I ask is that if the Huygens probe descends into Titan's atmosphere, which has been speculated to contain a great deal of chemicals needed for life (as we know it), will there be any reaction between those chemicals and any onboard plutonium if it leaks out/crashes/dissolves?  Granted, it is 290 degrees below zero on Titan, so that may kill any chances of anything "starting".

    (Charles?)

  • User profile image
    Bryn Waibel

    Hmm, I'm no nuclear physics expert, but I believe that in order to turn Plutonium into a hydrogen bomb, you need some extra ingredients. One is deuterium (heavy water), it's a naturally occurring isotope of water, but it only occurs in something like .02% of water molecules. That ratio is pretty well known and I personally feel that it is unlikely to be wrong in other places in this solar system. You can't make plutonium go boom with that concentration of deuterium I don't think. I believe that you also need a relatively huge amount of energy, directed inward toward the components, I seriously doubt that a crash landing of any kind would be enough to cause a reaction, but I certainly don't know.

    The risk involved then is in polluting a relatively small portion of the Saturn atmosphere with radioactive plutonium particles. I am simply glad this didn't occur when they launched Cassini, and not too worried about it happening on Saturn. Call me selfish. Let's just hope they don't crash it at all, and instead we learn some wonderful lessons about our solar system. I, for one, can't wait for that.

    -Bryn

  • User profile image
    lenn

    Where is Charles ???  People are talking about TITAN and he is not on the thread ... is he ok?

  • User profile image
    Charles

    June 30, 7:36 p.m. PDT  -  Engine fires for 96 minutes to slow down.
    June 30, 9:12 p.m. PDT  -  Engine burn complete; spacecraft in orbit.
    space

  • User profile image
    jsrfc58


    Although I am far from being a biologist, I guess I wasn't thinking so much about a scenario like "Holocaust on Titan" but more along the lines of mutating forms of life through radiation (if it even applies here) and what "interesting" things would come out of that.  Good material for science fiction stories no doubt (Bradbury?).  I am sure, too, though that the atmosphere would do a pretty good job of destroying the craft(s).  Hopefully, though, there will be plenty of pictures coming in soon and plenty of new things to see...

  • User profile image
    harumscarum

    I can not imagine the level of stress that team was under last night. Good news to hear it is in orbit. I can't wait for the Discovery HD specials. Smiley

  • User profile image
    Charles

    jsrfc58 wrote:

    I am sure, too, though that the atmosphere would do a pretty good job of destroying the craft(s).


    The Titan probe should survive the Titan atmosphere, which is similar to Earth's except for the high concentrations of Methane and negligible oxygen. It's denser than our atmosphere, so that should prove to be an interesting test for JPL spacecraft engineers and scientists.

    I too can't wait for the pictures and data. January seems so far away.


    Keep on posting,

    Charles

  • User profile image
    Charles

    Live Cassini Mission status coverage can be found here:

    http://www.nasa.gov/55644main_NASATV_Windows.asx

    The pictures and data are already blowing scientists away. Amazing.


    Charles

  • User profile image
    jsrfc58

    An added bonus to the mission (and the other ones out there):

    http://www.nasa.gov/vision/universe/solarsystem/0708_flare.html

  • User profile image
    Charles

    Very interesting, jsrfc58. Thanks for the link.

    One of the really cool things about the Cassini spacecraft is the number of scientific instruments onboard. This will make it possible for scientists on Earth to react to interesting phenomena that may not be related to the mission, but fall within the measurable range of one or more of the research devices, and investigate them.


    Keep on posting,


    Charles

  • User profile image
    Charles

    I'm ok. I was just working on an orbit insertion countdown widget for my desktop. Smiley

    Good question! The Cassini spacecraft is nuclear powered, yes. (The Cassini mission will last at least 5 years. There's a lot to explore in the Saturnian system. Nuclear power was the only reasonable way to go.) However, the Huygens probe, the little probe that's going to Titan (and is hitchiking on Cassini), is not. 

    So, don't worry, my friends, we won't pollute Titan's atmosphere with radioactive chemicals. Then again, the probe will remain on the surface (either on land or in one of the speculative hydrocarbon oceans). I don't see this as being a problem on Titan. I tend to think about it this way: we're giving away some really innovative and powerful scientific measurement devices. When an intelligent life form on Titan happens upon the probe, all they will need to do is figure out how to power the instruments. I think it's unfortunate we didn't send along a cd player with some music and greetings. Oh yeah, and some instructions for how to use the mass spectrometer.

    If Cassini crashes into Saturn, besides being a really, really sad day for anybody who is curious about how solar systems and life emerge in the Universe, nothing significant will happen from Saturn's perspective. The Cassini probe is not a nuclear bomb. Even if it was, it would have virtually zero impact on Saturn if it exploded in its atmosphere. This is not going to happen. Let's not speculate on this.

    The Saturn orbit insertion will mark the beginning of the end for the current way we think about life in the Universe. 

    Very interesting things await us on Titan...


    Charles

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