Project Lucifer. Could the plutonium fuel onboard the Cassini mission cause a nuclear chain reaction on Saturn? Credit: NASA/US Department of Defense

Project Lucifer: Will Cassini Turn Saturn into a Second Sun? (Part 1)

Article Updated: 24 Dec , 2015

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The story: On October 15th 1997, the Cassini-Huygens mission blasted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station to explore Saturn and its moons. It continues to study the ringed gas giant today and its mission has been extended till 2010. Cassini is is powered by 32.8 kg (72 lbs) of plutonium fuel. A radioactive power source is the only option for missions travelling beyond the orbit of Mars as sunlight is too weak for solar panels to be effective. However, NASA (in association with secret organizations, such as the Illuminati or the Freemasons) wants to use this plutonium for a “higher purpose”, dropping Cassini deep into Saturn at the end of its mission where atmospheric pressures will be so large that it will compress the probe, detonating like a nuclear bomb. What’s more, this will trigger a chain reaction, kick-starting nuclear fusion, turning Saturn into a fireball. This is what has become known as The Lucifer Project. This second sun will have dire consequences for us on Earth, killing millions from the huge influx of radiation by this newborn star. Earth’s loss becomes the Saturn moon Titan’s gain, suddenly it is habitable and the organizations playing “God” can start a new civilization in the Saturn system. What’s more, exactly the same thing was attempted when the Galileo probe was dropped into Jupiter’s atmosphere in 2003…

The reality: Now that the Cassini mission has been extended by two years, we can expect this conspiracy theory to become more and more vocal in the coming months. But like the Galileo/Jupiter/second sun theory, this one is just as inaccurate, once again using bad science to scare people (much like Planet X then)…


So what happened when Galileo dropped into Jupiter?

NASA

Galileo undergoing preparations before launch in 1989. Credit: NASA

Well… nothing really.

In 2003, NASA took the prudent decision to terminate the hugely successful Galileo mission by using its last drops of propellent to push it at high speed into the gas giant. By doing so, this ensured the probe would burn up during re-entry, dispersing and burning any contaminants (such as terrestrial bacteria and the radioactive plutonium-238 fuel on board). The primary concern about letting Galileo sit in a graveyard orbit was that if mission control lost contact (very likely as the radiation belts surrounding Jupiter were degrading the probe’s ageing electronics), there may have been the possibility that Galileo would crash into one of the Jovian moons, contaminating them and killing any possible extra-terrestrial microbial life. This was a serious concern, especially in the case of Europa which could be a prime location for life to thrive below its ice-encrusted surface.

Now this is where the intrigue begins. Long before Galileo plummeted into Jupiter’s atmosphere, conspiracy theorists cited that NASA wanted to create an explosion within the body of the gas giant, thus igniting a chain reaction, creating a second sun (Jupiter is often called a ‘failed star’, although it has always been way too small to support nuclear reactions in its core). This was proven wrong on many counts, but there were three main reasons why this could not happen:

  1. The design of the radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs) supplying energy to the craft wouldn’t allow it.
  2. The physics behind a nuclear explosion (nuclear fission) wouldn’t allow it.
  3. The physics of how a star works (nuclear fusion) wouldn’t allow it.

Five years after the Galileo impact, Jupiter still looks to be in fine health (and it certainly isn’t close to being a star). Although history has already proven you can’t create a star from a gas giant using a space probe (i.e. Jupiter + ProbeStar), conspiracy theorists think that NASA’s evil plan failed and there is some evidence that something did happen after Galileo got swallowed by Jupiter (and that NASA is pinning their hopes on the Cassini/Saturn combo).

Cue the Big Black Spot

The mystery black spot in 2003 (by Eric Ng) compared with one of the Shoemaker-Levy 9 fragment impact sites in 1994 (NASA)

The mystery black spot in 2003 (by Eric Ng) compared with one of the Shoemaker-Levy 9 fragments impact sites in 1994 (NASA)

Backing up the conspiracy theorists’ claims that there was an explosion inside the Jovian atmosphere after Galileo hit was the discovery of a dark blob near the equator of Jupiter a month after the event. This was widely reported across the web, but only a couple of observations were made before it disappeared. Some explanations pointed out that the blob could have been a short-lived dynamic atmospheric feature or it was a shadow from one of the Jovian moons. After this initial excitement, nothing else surfaced about the phenomenon. However, some were keen to point out that the dark patch on Jupiter’s surface may have been a manifestation of a nuclear detonation from Galileo deep within the planet which, after a month, eventually floated to the surface. Comparisons had even made with the 1994 features generated by the impact of the pieces of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 (pictured above).

What ever the cause of this dark feature, it didn’t come from Galileo as a nuclear detonation simply was not possible. What’s more, a nuclear detonation from the Cassini mission when it enters Saturn’s atmosphere in 2010 is also impossible, and here’s why…

The Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators (RTGs)

NASA

The Cassini RTG, one of three on board. Credit: NASA


RTGs are a tried and tested technology in use since the 1960’s. Various RTG designs have been used on a huge number of missions including Pioneer 10, Pioneer 11, Voyager 1, Voyager 2, Galileo, Ulysses, Cassini and, most recently, New Horizons. RTGs are a very dependable source of power for space missions where solar panels have not been an option. For Cassini, if solar panels were used, they would need to have a huge area to collect the meagre sunlight at 10 AU, thus impractical to launch and operate.

The three RTGs on board Cassini are fuelled by small pellets of plutonium-238 (238Pu) encased separately in shock-proof containers known as general purpose heat source modules. There are 18 modules in each RTG. Through the use of thermocouples, the steady heat generated by the radioactive decay of the plutonium isotope is converted into electricity to supply Cassini. It is worth noting at this point that 238Pu is not weapon grade (i.e. it is very difficult to generate nuclear fission, 239Pu is more suited for this purpose). There are also dozens of Radioisotope Heater Units (RHUs) on board Cassini that provide a steady heat to critical subsystems, which contain single pellets of Pu-238. Again, these units are separated and shielded, each weighing 40 grams. For more details on this, check out the NASA Factsheet: Spacecraft Power for Cassini.

Inside an RHU and RTG (Roland Piquepaille)

Inside an RHU and RTG (Roland Piquepaille)

Shielding is critical for each plutonium pellet, primarily to prevent radioactive contamination during launch of space missions. Should there be an incident during launch, space agencies such as NASA must assure the containment of the radioactive material. Therefore all RTGs and RHUs are completely safe regardless of the stresses they are put under.

So, like Galileo, Cassini will hit Saturn’s atmosphere at a high velocity (Galileo hit the Jovian atmosphere at a speed of 50 km/s) and disintegrate very quickly before burning to a cinder. The point I want to highlight here is that Cassini will break apart like any fast-moving object during re-entry.

Still, conspiracy theorists are quick to point out that Cassini is carrying a huge amount of plutonium, totalling 32.8 kg (even though it is not the weapon-grade 239Pu and all the bits of 238Pu are tiny pellets, encased in damage-proof containers, being scattered through Saturn’s atmosphere). But ignoring all the logical arguments against, it will still generate a nuclear explosion, right?

Alas, no.

So how does a nuclear bomb work anyway?

David A Hardy

Artist impression of Galileo burning up when falling into the Jovian atmosphere. Credit: David A Hardy

For a general run-down of the basics behind a nuclear weapon, check out the very clear description at How Stuff Works: How Nuclear Bombs Work (scroll down to “Implosion-Triggered Fission Bomb,” as this is what the conspiracy theorists believe Cassini will emulate).

So there’s Cassini, plummeting through Saturn’s atmosphere in two years time. As it gets deeper, bits fall off and burnt by the friction caused by re-entry. When I say fall off, I mean they are no longer attached. For a nuclear detonation to occur we need a solid mass of weapon grade plutonium. By solid mass, I mean we need a minimum amount of the stuff for nuclear fission to occur (a.k.a. “critical mass”). The critical mass of 238Pu is approximately 10 kg (US DoE publication), so Cassini has enough 238Pu for three crude nuclear bombs (ignoring the fact that it is very difficult to build a 238Pu weapon in the first place). But how could all those tiny pellets of 238Pu be pulled together, in free-fall, casings removed, letting the pressure of Saturn’s atmosphere force it all together tipping it toward critical mass? Is that really possible? No.

An imploding nuclear weapon (answers.com)

An imploding nuclear weapon (answers.com)

Even if by some chance all the 238Pu in one RTG melded together, how would it detonate? For detonation of an implosion-triggered fission bomb to occur, sub-critical masses need to be forced together at the same instant. The only way this is possible is to surround the sub-critical masses with high-explosives so a shock wave rapidly collapses the sub-critical masses together. Only then may a chain reaction be sustained. Unless NASA has been really sneaky and hidden some explosives inside their RTGs, detonation is not possible. Using atmospheric pressure alone is not a viable explanation.

Now we can see that it is pretty much impossible for the plutonium on board Cassini to create a nuclear explosion. But if there was a nuclear detonation, could a chain reaction occur? Could Saturn become a star?

Find out in Part 2 of Project Lucifer: Will Cassini Turn Saturn into a Second Sun?

(A special thanks goes to Selene Spencer at Paranormal Radio for highlighting this topic on their website’s discussion forum.)


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Andrew James
Member
July 24, 2008 2:30 AM

Goody. Hope this happens.

Does anyone know a good Real Estate Agent to buy some land on Titan?

Dejan R
Guest
Dejan R
July 24, 2008 3:27 AM

Fantastic article as always, I enjoyed reading it greatly but I can see conspiracy theorists eating away at it like crazy!

Mick
Guest
July 24, 2008 4:26 AM

Well there goes my idea for a time share scheme sad

Wizardd
Guest
Wizardd
July 24, 2008 4:30 AM

I feel sorry for these conspiracy theorists. They really should step outside from their dungeon and start living their lives.

Good article.

Science may sometimes look simple, but it isn’t. And Science isn’t truth, it’s just theories and testing theories and if the theory works – it’s valid untill it can be proven unvalid.

Hunnter
Member
Hunnter
July 24, 2008 4:35 AM
Just wondering though, would Saturn actually blow-out when / if (more likely when though) this happens? Would the radiation be that high, compared to the amount Earth receives from the sun? (i can’t remember the distances between the 2 sets) Also, I say when because it could be a feasible project, why not create a 2nd star? Could even be used for travel outside the solar system (if you could manage to move it… ) Create some sort of dyson sphere to collect all the excess radiation and channel it to thrusters a set positions around the thing (or some other futuristic propulsion technology) But then it could cause massive disruption to the solar system. BUT, by then,… Read more »
blzeeBOB
Guest
blzeeBOB
July 24, 2008 4:51 AM

“This second sun will have dire consequences for us on Earth, killing millions from the huge influx of radiation by this newborn star. Earth’s loss becomes the Saturn moon Titan’s gain, suddenly it is habitable”

r-i-g-h-t – So this new sun will basically drench a world 882 million miles away from it in deadky radiation, yet a moon only 760,000 miles away will escape this onslaught …. I always thought the closer you arem the nore you would get….

mitkilurt
Guest
mitkilurt
July 24, 2008 5:42 AM

I am so glad there are ignorant paranoid people in the world. It makes life so much more entertaining. What was the one I read/ watched the other day…. oh ya, the one about the evil reptilian’s in the earth at war with the gray’s who live on mars, and in 2012, they will battle again, destroying/ enslaving us. The ancient Nordics were somehow involved too… LOL. It was a half hour video too! You just can’t make this stuff up, it’s great.

Aodhhan
Member
Aodhhan
July 24, 2008 6:46 AM

Nice job with this story. I really enjoyed how it starts out! I’ve had to answer this question more than several times.

Even if everything was perfect to begin a chain reaction creating a huge explosion , the planet would pretty much just absorb it and carry on its merry way. While Saturn is a very large gas planet, its density is quite low.

So theorhetically, even if we could get the “fire” started and had the correct mixture to continue to fuel, the gasses would burn off “relatively” quickly.

So unfortunately, the chances of seeing a second star light up from Saturn is pretty much zero.

Eric Near Buffalo
Guest
Eric Near Buffalo
July 24, 2008 6:54 AM

Correct.

Just another whack job conspiracy theory.

I guess you could call Saturn and Jupiter both failed stars. They’ve got the gaseous make-up right? Just not the density and ability to start fusion, correct? If that was the opposite, they both would have been blazing for a quite a while, but most likely would have burned out well before the Solar System was a billion years old. They’re just too small. I would think, anyways.

kcuhC
Member
July 24, 2008 7:23 AM

Never let good science, reason, and logic get in the way of a good conspiracy!

John Mendenhall
Member
John Mendenhall
July 24, 2008 7:58 AM

“I feel sorry for these conspiracy theorists. They really should step outside from their dungeon and start living their lives.” – Wizardd

Good idea, let’s start a conspiracy to put them all in a dungeon, preerably on Saturn.

Joe
Guest
Joe
July 24, 2008 8:37 AM

Wow anyone who believes we could turn either Saturn or Jupiter into a sun is a total crack head.

TD
Member
July 24, 2008 8:39 AM
A dozen or so scientists decide in the early 1960’s to hide the fact of Life on Mars so that humanity doesn’t destroy itself intentionally by germ warfare experiments with alien microbes or unintentionally by back contamination. They decide instead to wage a decades long struggle to build a 1/2 trillion dollar international space station for the good of mankind, and dissuade attempts of making a serious to find life on Mars, until the Space Station is complete (where the samples can be analyzed in safety). The few scientists that find out and won’t go along are eliminated. Sorry, not nukes on Jupiter, or glass domes on the moon, but could this really be happening? That’s why we… Read more »
Steve
Guest
July 24, 2008 8:53 AM

The whole creating a star thing is totally ridiculous, but if I may, I’d like to wear my ignorance on my sleve for a second. The Tungusta Event (Russia) has been shown that it detonated well within our atmosphere and not due to impact on the ground. Obviously, it had much more mass than a meager Earthling spacecraft, but could it explode never-the-less? (star formation aside that is smile

Todd Sieling
Guest
July 24, 2008 9:01 AM
Great article, but I notice that a regular sport here is denigration of other people, namely those who hold ideas that don’t stand up to scrutiny. From this subject to the Mayan calendar doomsday to faked moon landings to astrology to ufos, the tone is almost always derisive and snickering. I think there’s a lot of education that can be done by examining unscientific ideas, and something to be learned by looking at their underpinnings and cultural context, but that opportunity is usually given up for ‘fact snaps’. What science and historical record considers true changes over time as much as myth and legend do, and the bad ideas that people hold can tell us a lot about… Read more »
alan
Guest
alan
July 24, 2008 9:48 AM

This is so bad I don’t think you can even blame it on public schools!

Tyler Durden
Guest
Tyler Durden
July 24, 2008 10:02 AM
“Wow anyone who believes we could turn either Saturn or Jupiter into a sun is a total crack head.” I guess famed science fiction (and science inventor) Arthur C. Clarke was a complete crackhead then? Because he proposed turning Jupiter into a Sun in order to make its moons habitable, all the way back in the sixties. I’m not saying it’s possible NOW but, with sufficiently advanced technology we could artificially increase Jupiter’s density and/or gravitational pull to a level sufficiently large (at least 14-20 times) to initiate fusion. However, a nuclear explosion would have nothing to do with it. It would simply involve making the center of Jupiter dense enough that the molecules inside are crushed together… Read more »
NoAstronomer
Member
NoAstronomer
July 24, 2008 10:11 AM

I agree with mitkilurt, who needs TV sitcoms, the best paranoid theories are almost Pythonesque.

Eric near Buffalo,

Assuming that Jupiter or Saturn actually had *just* enough mass to start nuclear fusion they would still be burning long after the sun had exhausted it’s nuclear fuel (assuming no transfer of material to the sun during it’s red-giant phase). It’s a curious side-effect of the physics involved that the more massive a star is the shorter it lives.

Rabbitrun
Guest
Rabbitrun
July 24, 2008 10:13 AM

If you want to know what that black spot was on Jupiter, ask Dave Bowman…

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