Get the Mach newsletter.
In brief: Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, is a promising candidate for extraterrestrial life. NASA may be sending a “Dragonfly” drone to explore Titan’s surface.
Sending a “Dragonfly” drone into an alien world
With its vast seas along with methane-filled lakes and rivers, Titan is a prime candidate to your quest for extraterrestrial existence. While our understanding of Saturn’s largest moon grew tremendously thanks to the now-defunct Cassini mission, the question of whether Titan is home to primitive lifeforms remains a mystery. Currently, NASA’s recent selection of Titan as a potential for further exploration under its next New Frontiers mission indicates they might want more answers. Selected from a field of 12 chances, NASA decided a quad-copter known as “Dragonfly” as one of two finalists for its following nearly billion-dollar mission. Even the “Dragonfly” drone, like its namesake, would flit between different elements of Titan’s surface to study the moon landscape and its habitability.
Another competitor is a mission into the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, where a lander will snag a piece of the comet’s nucleus and return it to Earth for further study.
The plutonium-powered drone would alternate between taking measurements over the moon’s surface and flying out of 1 site to another, traveling tens to hundreds of km with every flight.
Elizabeth Turtle, principal investigator for Dragonfly in Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, , “Titan is a very interesting ocean world. It’s the only moon in the solar system using a dense air, weather, clouds, rain, and fluid lakes and ponds–and these fluids are ethane and methane. There is so much amazing discovery and science to be performed on Titan.” During a NASA teleconference on December 20, 2017, Turtle reported the Dragonfly was expected to land on Titan in 2034.
Many scientists have contrasted the conditions on the surface of Titan into the conditions which might have been around on ancient Earth. In fact, NASA even said that, “In many respects, Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, is one of the very Earth-like worlds we’ve discovered thus far.” So even when life is never found about Titan itself, it could be an perfect place to explore the way life came about on Earth.
“NASA Is Considering Sending a “Dragonfly” Drone into an Alien World” was originally published by Futurism, LLC on Dec. 26, 2017 by Chelsea Gohd. Copyright 2017. Futurism, LLC. All rights reserved.