A vehicle that flies like a drone and will try to unravel some of the mysteries of Saturn’s moon Titan was selected yesterday to be the next New Frontiers mission to explore the solar system.
Searching for the building blocks of life, the Dragonfly mission will be able to fly multiple sorties to sample and examine sites around Saturn’s icy moon.
Titan has a thick atmosphere and features a variety of hydrocarbons, with rivers and lakes of methane, ethane and natural gas, as well as and precipitation cycles like on Earth. As a result, Dragonfly has been described as an astrobiology mission because it will search for signs of the prebiotic environments like those on Earth that gave rise to life.
“Titan is unlike any other place in the solar system, and Dragonfly is like no other mission,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate administrator for science at the agency headquarters in Washington.
“It’s remarkable to think of this rotorcraft flying miles and miles across the organic sand dunes of Saturn’s largest moon, exploring the processes that shape this extraordinary environment. Dragonfly will visit a world filled with a wide variety of organic compounds, which are the building blocks of life and could teach us about the origin of life itself.”
As described in a NASA release, Titan is an analog to the very early Earth, and can provide clues to how life may have arisen on our planet.
Dragonfly will explore environments ranging 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. 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.
Because it is so far from the sun, Titan’s surface temperature is around -290 degrees Fahrenheit and its surface pressure is 50 percent higher than Earth’s.… Read more