- Jul 27, 2021
NASA announced it would send a drone-like spacecraft to the surface of Saturn’s largest moon Titan, and one of the leading candidates for finding extraterrestrial microbial life in our solar system. Titan discovered something strange, yet a familiar world where life could theoretically take root. Now, scientists and researchers want to return — this time buoyed by Earth’s fascination with drone technology named Dragonfly.
Of course, we can’t study that on Earth, because biology has kind of overprinted everything, but Titan is the place that is most like the early Earth in the solar system – Turtle
He added, “Dragonfly is first and foremost a mission to understand prebiotic chemistry.”
Using propellers the drone, Dragonfly would land on several spots on the icy moon to examine whether it can support microbial life or not. The nuclear-powered mission is a part of NASA’s competitive New Frontiers program, which launched the New Horizons spacecraft that became the first to visit dwarf planet Pluto. Titan is found to have a fascinating environment, along with a hydrocarbon atmosphere which is much thicker than Earth’s atmosphere. NASA intends to spend a couple of years exploring its complex chemistry.
Dragonfly is scheduled to launch in 2025 and will land on Titan in 2034, after an 840-million-mile journey from Earth. Once the Dragonfly craft lands on the surface of the moon, it will use its eight rotors to perform short flights once every Titan day. NASA scientists were still deciding between Titan explorer and another mission that would have flown to a comet named 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. The comet had been visited by Europe’s Rosetta spacecraft, but the new mission would have returned a sample of cometary material to Earth.
On Earth, sunlight provides organic life growing in fields and forests; the same sunlight that triggers chemical reactions in Titan’s upper atmosphere that create large organic molecules that pour down on the moon’s surface, something similar like Earth’s rainwater. While Earth has a landscape made of rock covered in places by the water, Titan’s landscape is made of water ice covered in areas by organic compounds.
In 2004, a small spacecraft built by the European Space Agency landed from NASA’s Cassini probe in the Saturn system and descended through Titan’s thick atmosphere. It only survived a short 90 minutes on the surface, through which it returned tantalizing information about the complexity of a cold and exotic world that nonetheless has familiar features such as lakes and rivers filled with liquid methane.