Soon a drone sent to Titan, Saturn's largest moon

 
 
 
 
 

The NASA will send a drone to Titan to find traces of ancient life.

This is what reveals, Science and Future with AFP June 28th.

The US Space Agency announced on Thursday, June 27, 2019 that it had decided to send a quadrocopter-like robot to Saturn's largest moon, Titan, which is larger than Mercury and resembles the early Earth. The mission is called "Dragonfly" and will take off in 2026, for a landing in 2034 on Titan.

 
 

A mission that "could revolutionize what we know about life in the universe”

Dragonfly, with its eight rotors, will fly in the sky of Titan, ten times more distant from the Sun than the Earth and particularly frozen: the average temperature is -179 ° C. This will be the first time that a device will boot on another star. The drone will land and then take steps, bigger and bigger over its mission of at least two years and eight months long, to analyze different parts of Titan. The goal: to find traces of ancient life, to understand how life began.

So far, only fixed landers or rovers have been laid in the solar system, on Mars, Venus, Moon or asteroids. But the American rover Curiosity, the only one currently active on Mars, can only roll a hundred yards a day, after which he must recharge his batteries. He has traveled 20 km so far in seven years. in comparaison Dragonfly will fly 175 km in less than three years. Titan has oceans and liquid lakes on its surface. But it is not water: they are made of methane, made liquid by the ultra-low temperature. "Going into this ocean world could revolutionize what we know about life in the universe," said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.

NASA / JHU-APL Illustration of the DragonFly mission on Titan

NASA / JHU-APL Illustration of the DragonFly mission on Titan

Titan dunes are similar to Namibia

The landscapes that Dragonfly will explore are multiple: it will start with dunes similar to the dunes we know in Namibia, and end in the bottom of a crater where liquid water probably sank a long time ago, maybe for tens of thousands years. "Dragonfly will explore a world filled with a wide variety of organic molecules, which are the bricks of life and could help us break into the origin of life itself," said Thomas Zurbuchen, who oversees all scientific activities from NASA.

Like the Earth, Titan has an atmosphere composed mainly of nitrogen. But on Titan, it's raining methane. And it's snowing up other organic molecules.

 
 
 

Dragonfly has exploited 13 years of Cassini data to choose a quiet landing period,

a secure initial landing site and scientifically interesting targets. It will first land in equatorial Shangri-La dunes, which resemble the linear dunes of Namibia in southern Africa and offer a diversified sampling site.

Synthetic image imagining Titan, consisting of hydrocarbon deposits and icy and rocky terrain. Credit: Steven Hobbs (Brisbane, Queensland, Australia).

Synthetic image imagining Titan, consisting of hydrocarbon deposits and icy and rocky terrain. Credit: Steven Hobbs (Brisbane, Queensland, Australia).

Dragonfly will explore this region in short flights, building up to a series of longer “leapfrog” flights of up to 5 miles (8 kilometers), stopping along the way to take samples from compelling areas with diverse geography. It will finally reach the Selk impact crater, where there is evidence of past liquid water, organics – the complex molecules that contain carbon, combined with hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen – and energy, which together make up the recipe for life. The lander will eventually fly more than 108 miles (175 kilometers) – nearly double the distance traveled to date by all the Mars rovers combined.

 
 
 

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