These questions and their answers address some potential aspects of a rover on Saturn's moon Titan.

The abstract to the new paper in Nature Observational evidence for active dust storms on Titan at equinox begins:

Saturn’s moon Titan has a dense nitrogen-rich atmosphere, with methane as its primary volatile. Titan’s atmosphere experiences an active chemistry that produces a haze of organic aerosols that settle to the surface and a dynamic climate in which hydrocarbons are cycled between clouds, rain and seas. Titan displays particularly energetic meteorology at equinox in equatorial regions, including sporadic and large methane storms. In 2009 and 2010, near Titan’s northern spring equinox, the Cassini spacecraft observed three distinctive and short-lived spectral brightenings close to the equator. Here, we show from analyses of Cassini spectral data, radiative transfer modelling and atmospheric simulations that the brightenings originate in the atmosphere and are consistent with formation from dust storms composed of micrometre-sized solid organic particles mobilized from underlying dune fields.

Our fearless rover or flying drone will either get rained on aerosol-settled-on by stuff similar to the stuff that's already in the lakes. While radar images show it as black, I'm guessing that it's probably fairly transparent, and this answer indicates that the bulk of the liquid is not expected to be oily but being mostly methane, much lower viscosity than water. However, any less volatile materials present in the rain might conceivably begin build up, and then attract dust and dirt.


  • Will the rover or drone be sticky from this? Will instruments get covered in this, and then potentially a dust storm will come by and coat it with an additional layer of dirt?

  • Will cameras and other sensors need protective covers that only open a short time for data-taking? Will the headlights need windshield-wipers?

For more info on Titan conditions see for example these and their answers:

  • $\begingroup$ I'm quite sure it's black in visible spectrum - the composition would be quite similar to crude oil. $\endgroup$
    – SF.
    Commented Sep 26, 2018 at 6:43
  • $\begingroup$ hydrogenless carbons, a.k.a. soot... $\endgroup$
    – SF.
    Commented Sep 27, 2018 at 11:31
  • $\begingroup$ In realistic crude oils (of any kind) you get a huge number of varied hydrocarbons in all possible configurations. 0 hydrogens 1 or more carbon is an allowed configuration that happens alongside the rest. In normal earthly soot you won't find hydrogen because small hydrocarbons are volatile while carbon alone forms a solid, plus hydrogen will bind with other substances easier than carbon and forming more stable bonds, so e.g. burning hydrocarbons with deficiency of oxygen, you get water, carbon monoxide and soot, not carbon dioxide and loose hydrogen. $\endgroup$
    – SF.
    Commented Sep 27, 2018 at 12:17
  • $\begingroup$ I don't know how Titan's hydrocarbons formed. If there was excess of hydrogen, it's possible there would be very little unbound carbon. If it was abundant but the carbon was taken from other compounds, it would be possible excess remained in these compounds. But if you react carbon+hydrogen with deficiency of hydrogen, you get some surplus soot. $\endgroup$
    – SF.
    Commented Sep 27, 2018 at 12:19
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I suspect we might get some answers on the effects of dust on flying vehicles when the helicopter attached to the Mars 2020 rover takes flight $\endgroup$
    – Dragongeek
    Commented Feb 17, 2020 at 12:26

1 Answer 1


Honestly, from what I can tell, not much consideration has been given to this issue.
I checked the papers for these three Titan Probes;

  1. Dragonfly
  2. Titan MARE
  3. Titan Rover Concept (with inflatable wheels)

Concerns with dust and dirt covering the probes came up 0 times. A report on the engineering challenges on Titan didn't even mention it. In fact the only resource on the internet that I could find that relates to the issue was in this 2018 article. In this article it says;

Ideally, he says, future Titan spacecraft could gather information on dust storm probability, the magnitude of the winds, and the effect on visibility. At the moment, the data available are sparse; figuring out how to re-engineer Titan aircraft or landers "is in the realm of speculation right now," he concludes. (Larry Matthies)

Though as Dragongeek points out, Mars dust problems could be analogous to Titan ones. On Mars the main problem with dust is that it covers the solar panels, which isn't a problem on Titan. Curiosity had dust covers on some of its camera when it landed. MAHLI as seen in the centre of the photo has a reclosable dust cover.

Dust Covers MAHLI

So from what I can tell, the issue isn't considered a problem. And for reference, the people developing the cameras on Dragonfly, Malin Space Science Systems, also built MAHLI, so if it is a problem, they have experience creating dust covers.


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