NASA just announced that it has chosen Saturn’s moon Titan as its next destination. They are sending a drone to explore Saturn’s largest moon.
NASA said today that it is soon launching their Dragonfly mission to Saturn’s icy moon Titan. The space agency aims to advance our search for the building blocks of life.
The dragonfly mission will send a dual-quadcopter to explore the surface of Titan. The nuclear-powered drone has eight rotors helping it fly across the moon’s surface for tens of miles at a time in under an hour. It will fly from location to location once every 16 days. Elizabeth Turtle of Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory leads the mission.
Dragonfly was the winner of two finalists competing for the New Frontiers award. The other, CAESAR, led by Steve Squyres at Cornell University, was planning to grab a piece of a comet’s surface and bring it back to Earth.
You Might Like This: “Can Humans Live on Titan?“
“During its 2.7-year baseline mission, Dragonfly will explore diverse environments from organic dunes to the floor of an impact crater where liquid water and complex organic materials key to life once existed together for possibly tens of thousands of years,” NASA wrote.
“Its instruments will study how far prebiotic chemistry may have progressed. They also will investigate the moon’s atmospheric and surface properties and its subsurface ocean and liquid reservoirs. Additionally, instruments will search for chemical evidence of past or extant life.”
“With the Dragonfly mission, NASA will once again do what no one else can do,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “Visiting this mysterious ocean world could revolutionize what we know about life in the universe. This cutting-edge mission would have been unthinkable even just a few years ago, but we’re now ready for Dragonfly’s amazing flight.”
NASA expects to launch Dragonfly in 2026 and land it on the Titan’s surface in 2034.
Titan’s Similarities to Earth
Titan is the only planetary body around the sun, besides Earth, with a dense atmosphere that is rich in nitrogen and carbon. Windblown dunes wriggle over its surface while mountains, hills, and canyons cover the landscape.
Just like on Earth, rain falls from the skies of Titan creating rivers and streams that feed lakes and seas. There, organic compounds could undergo complex chemical reactions to form the so-called “primordial soup” from which life on Earth first sprang.
Tiny amounts of vapor rise from the land back to the sky to create new clouds and fresh showers. This cycle mirrors that of Earth’s.
The Cassini-Huygens was the last mission to explore Titan. In 2017, the Cassini spacecraft plunged into Saturn, ending two decades of exploration.