One of the most profound and exciting breakthroughs in planetary science in the last two decades has been the discovery of liquid methane lakes on the surface of Saturn’s largest moon Titan, and liquid oceans under the icy surfaces of many of the giant gas planets’ other moons. Thrillingly, these some of these “waters” may actually harbor life.
Unfortunately, we don’t know much about them. Probes such as Juno and Cassini can only get so close. Also, subsurface oceans can only be sensed indirectly. The European Space Agency’s Huygens probe did land on Titan in 2005, but on a solid surface rather than on liquid. So how can we explore these seas?
An exciting idea being explored is developing submarines to send through space to the moons. Over the next two years, NASA is devoting half a million dollars to researching the prospect of sending such a vehicle to Titan. But there are other studies out there, too – with targets including Jupiter’s Europa and Ganymede, and Saturn’s Enceladus. But are such missions actually within our technological reach?