NASA Dragonfly mission will explore Saturn's largest moon Titan


"The ultimate goal is to get to Selk crater, which is a really large crater on Titan - it's about 50 miles (80km) across", said NASA Lead Program Scientist for New Frontiers, Curt Nieber.

NASA is planning to send a drone called Dragonfly to Saturn's biggest moon, Titan, the agency said while announcing its latest mission to explore the solar system to understand the origin of humans.

Titan is a haze-covered world with a thick atmosphere. Because it's an aerial drone and not a rover, Dragonfly will be able to venture to these locations rather quickly, providing a wealth of information and many observations over a shorter period of time.

Introducing Dragonfly: our next New Frontiers Mission!

"This ocean world is the only moon in our solar system with a dense atmosphere & we're so excited to see what Dragonfly discovers", NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a tweet on Thursday. "This cutting-edge mission would have been unthinkable even just a few years ago, but we're now ready for Dragonfly's unbelievable flight".

Titan is a piece of our Solar System astronomers have been very interested in studying, especially because it features large, hydrocarbon lakes and where there's water, there's nearly always life. Dragonfly will be equipped with the tools to scan material samples for evidence of life, either present or past, and NASA isn't sure what it might find.

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Saturn's Moon Titan has its own seasonal cycles, winds, river, and lakes but with an exotic twist.

"Titan is unlike any other place in the solar system, and Dragonfly is like no other mission", claims Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA's associate administrator for Science at the agency's headquarters in Washington, DC. It's also the second-largest moon in the solar system. The probe will then spend at least 2.5 years on Titan and explore around 3,200 mile-wide moon through diverse environments from organic dunes where life, water, and complex organic materials once existed for possibly tens of thousands of years.

It has instruments that can be used to test the moon's atmosphere and surface, as well as an underground ocean. The plan is to land on some of Titan's dunes and later on a crater.

NASA said the vehicle would have eight rotors and fly like a large drone. Its atmosphere is composed mostly of nitrogen, much like Earth's is, and contains clouds from which methane rain falls. Its instruments will study how far prebiotic chemistry may have progressed. Titan is about 886 miles from the Sun having a surface temperature of -290 degrees Fahrenheit. All in all, the lander will eventually fly more than 108 miles (175 kilometers).

"Titan is such an wonderful, complex destination", said Elizabeth Turtle, who will lead the mission for the lab as its principal investigator.

Upon arrival, Dragonfly will land in the "Shangri-La" dune fields, which NASA likened to the linear dunes in Namibia.