Saturn’s largest moon, which is also larger than Mercury, the solar system’s 2nd largest moon after Jupiter’s moon Ganymede, and home to Marvel’s super villain; Thanos. Yes, we are talking today about the moon Titan and an exciting future opportunity to explore it by NASA’s new mission: “Dragonfly”
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However, “Dragonfly” will not be the first mission to land on Titan, back in the year 2005, the “Cassini” Space mission landed the “Huygens” probe on the moon. The probe measured some parameters about Titan’s wind and atmosphere.
For the “Dragonfly” mission, let’s start with why Titan? What drew NASA to explore it in the first place? Other than probably a public request from Marvel’s fans! Titan has many qualities that make it worth exploring:
First of all, it has a dense enough atmosphere to allow for life on it, actually, Titan is the only moon with a dense atmosphere in the whole of our solar system. An added bonus is that its atmosphere is rich in nitrogen like Earth, exactly 95% nitrogen, and 5% methane.
And second of all, Titan is a liquid rich moon, so liquid rich in fact that it has methane seas and rivers and lakes on its surface. And so far, it’s the only extraterrestrial object known to have such vast bodies of liquid.
Not only that, but Titan also supports a hydrological cycle; it has clouds and rains and seas of liquid organic material like methane and ethane.
And finally, Titan is the perfect environment to study the pre-life chemical interactions that similarly took place on Earth and the possibility of habitation outside of our planet, and that’s because the moon has a lot of diverse organic material found on its surface.
On the other hand, NASA has a mission called “Ocean Worlds”, its theme is to explore different interplanetary objects with vast bodies of water inside and outside our solar system, and guess who’s on the list? Yes, it’s our buddy Titan! Because besides having a crust of water ice on its surface, Titan also has a subsurface water ocean as well.
All these reasons are factors that participated in the decision to engineer and design a special mission to explore Titan. And thus, the “Dragonfly” mission was chosen as part of NASA’s “New Frontiers” program that aims at launching missions to high priority worlds within our solar system.
The program also included some famous previous missions like the “New Horizons” mission back in 2006 to Pluto, the “Juno” mission back in 2011 to Jupiter, the “OSIRIS-REx” mission back in 2016 to the asteroid Bennu, and ending with “Dragonfly” to Titan.
The “Dragonfly” mission won against another mission called “CAESAR” which was set to explore the comet “Churyumov–Gerasimenko” and return samples from it to Earth.
Before talking about the “Dragonfly”, we must not forget the efforts of past space missions in giving us an overview of the moon Titan. Our first sight of Titan came from the two NASA “Voyager” spacecrafts that flew past Titan back in 1979 and 1980.
Followed in the year 1994 by photographs taken with the help of the “Hubble Space Telescope.”
But only thanks to 13 years of studying Saturn and its moons by the space mission “Cassini”, that scientists are now able to choose an initial landing site for “Dragonfly” and possible areas of interest for exploration. “Cassini” takes the credit as well for the most detailed pictures we have of Titan.
Now, more about the star of the video and less about the past! “Dragonfly” is a medium-class planetary science mission that costs 850 million US dollars to develop, and that’s excluding launch expenses and mission operation! Crazy, right! So such an expensive mission must have some powerful goals in mind to achieve.
In a broad sense, “Dragonfly” will be concerned -among other things- with astrobiology which is the field of study of the origin and evolution of life in the universe, and especially on Titan in the case of “Dragonfly.”
But before we talk about the goals, let’s take a look at the “Dragonfly” itself and what the spacecraft looks like.
Designing a mission to Titan is not a trivial task, because the moon has a freezing cold temperature of -178.889 degrees Celsius (-290 degrees Fahrenheit), but we really can’t blame Titan for being “too cool” when it’s 10 times farther from the Sun than the Earth is, at a distance of 1.4 billion kilometers (886 million miles.)
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Original Author: Produced by Insane Curiosity and published on 01/08/2020 Source