It was on March 25th over 350 years ago that Saturn’s largest moon, and the second largest moon in the solar system, Titan, was discovered. According to one of the researchers studying Titan, Dr. Ellen Stofan, the geology of the satellite greatly resembles that of the Earth.
That resemblance is one of the things that interests Stofan, who was trained as a geologist at the College of William and Mary and in geological sciences at Brown University, earning her doctorate in 1989. She was a research scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab for nine years before becoming a senior research scientist and vice president of Proxemy Research.
As part of the team that is responsible for the analysis of the radar data being sent back by the Cassini spacecraft, she helped to conclude that Titan has evidence of active geology including volcanoes, ridges and other tectonic features. But the radar also shows evidence of lakes on the surface of Titan, a surface that is a negative 290 degrees Fahrenheit or minus 179 Celsius, meaning that these lakes are not liquid water like on Earth but are possibly made of organic materials.
In 2009 Proxemy Research submitted a proposal to send a boat of sorts to land on one of these lakes and collect data. Dr. Stofan was the principal investigator for the Titan Mare Explorer that was designed to take data for 6 Titan days, or 96 Earth days, and would gather information on temperature, pressure, humidity, and turbidity much like a weather buoy collects data here on Earth.
In 2012 the explorer was up for funding through the Discovery Program with NASA but it was not selected for implementation as the development of its proposed power source, the advanced stirling radioisotope generators had been cancelled by NASA. In 2013 Stofan was selected to fill the role as Chief Scientist at NASA where she serves as principal advisor on the agency’s science program and science-related strategic planning and investments.
Written by Angela Goad