Science & Technology

NASA’s Dragonfly mission to Saturn’s moon Titan announces major scientific goals

Illustration of dragonfly mission concept of approach, descent, landing, ground operation, flight with Titan. Credit: NASA

Among the many satellites of our solar system SaturnTitan stands out-it’s the only month that has a fair amount of air and liquid on its surface. Although it rains methane instead of water, it even has a meteorological system like Earth. Does it also host some kind of life?

NASAThe Dragonfly mission, which sends a relocatable lander for rotorcraft to the surface of Titan in the mid-2030s, is the first mission to explore the surface of Titan and has great goals.

On July 19th, the Dragonfly Science Team published “Scientific Goals and Objectives of the Dragonfly Titan Rotorcraft Relocatable Lander”. Planetary Science Journal.. The lead author of this treatise is Jason Barnes, Deputy Principal Investigator and Professor of Physics at the University of Idaho.

Dragonfly’s goals include searching for chemical bio-signatures. Investigate the active methane cycle of the moon. We will explore the prebiotic chemistry that is currently occurring in Titan’s atmosphere and its surface.

Dragonfly on the surface of Titan

NASA’s Dragonfly mission, which sends repositionable landers of rotorcraft to the surface of Titan in the mid-2030s, will be the first mission to explore the surface of Titan. Credits: NASA / Johns Hopkins APL

“Titan represents the explorer’s utopia,” said Alex Haze, an associate professor of astronomy at the College of Liberal Arts and a dragonfly collaborator and co-author. “The scientific questions we have for Titan are very broad, as we are still not sure what is really happening on the surface. For all the questions we answered during Cassini The mission’s exploration of Titan from Saturn’s orbit has earned 10 new ones. “

Cassini has been orbiting Saturn for 13 years, but due to the thick atmosphere of Titan’s methane, it was not possible to reliably identify the surface material. Cassini’s radar has allowed scientists to invade the atmosphere and identify Earth-like morphological structures such as dunes, lakes, and mountains, but data can reveal their composition. I could not do it.

“In fact, when Cassini was launched, I didn’t even know if the surface of Titan was the global liquid sea of ​​methane and ethane, or the solid surface of water ice and solid organic matter,” said the director. Hayes said. Cornell University Center for Astrophysics and Planetary Sciences and A & S Spacecraft Planetary Imaging Facility.

NASA Dragonfly Rotorcraft Lander

Impression of a dragonfly artist flying over Titan. Credits: Johns Hopkins / APL

The Huygens probe, which landed on Titan in 2005, was designed to float in the sea of ​​methane / ethane or land on hard surfaces. The scientific experiments were conducted primarily in the atmosphere, as they were uncertain whether they would survive the landing. Dragonflies will be the first mission to explore the surface of Titan and identify the detailed composition of its organic-rich surface.

“What’s very exciting to me is predicting what’s happening on the local scale of the surface and how Titan works as a system,” says Hayes. They are wrong. “

Hayes has been working on Titan for almost the entire career. He is particularly keen on answering some of the questions Cassini has posed in his area of ​​expertise. The surface process of the planet and the interaction between the surface and the atmosphere.

“My main scientific interest is to understand Titan as a complex Earth-like world and to try to understand the processes that are driving its evolution,” he said. “This includes everything from the interaction of the methane cycle with the surface and atmosphere to the routing of matter across the surface and the potential exchange with the interior.”

Dragonfly on the surface of Titan

Dragonfly on the surface of Titan. Credits: Johns Hopkins / APL

Hayes also provides important expertise in other areas. Mars Rover mission.

“Dragonfly’s mission benefits and represents the intersection of Cornell University’s substantial history with Operation Rover and Cassini science,” says Hayes. “Bring these two things together by exploring Titan with a relocatable mobile craft.”

Cornell University astronomers are currently participating in the Mars Science Laboratory and the Mars 2020 mission, leading the Mars Rover mission. The lessons learned from these rover on Mars have been transferred to Titan, Hayes said.

Titan Dragonfly

Titan dragonfly artist concept.Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center / Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory

Dragonflies spend a day in one place (equivalent to 16 days on Earth), conducting scientific experiments and observations, and then flying to a new place. The science team needs to make decisions about what the spacecraft will do next, based on lessons learned from previous locations. “This is exactly what the Mars rover has been doing for decades,” says Hayes.

Titan’s low gravity (about one-seventh of the Earth) and thick atmosphere (four times the density of the Earth) make it an ideal location for aircraft. The wind is weaker than the Earth and the relatively quiet atmosphere makes it even better. The science team does not expect it to rain during the dragonfly flight, but Hayes said no one really knows Titan’s regional weather patterns.

Many of the scientific questions outlined in the group’s treatise address prebiotic chemistry, an area of ​​great interest to Hayes. Many of the prebiotic compounds formed on the early Earth were also formed in Titan’s atmosphere, and Hayes wants to know how much Titan actually went on the path of prebiotic chemistry. Titan’s atmosphere may be a good analog of what happened on early Earth.

Dragonfly’s search for chemical bio-signatures will also be extensive. In addition to examining the general habitability of Titans, they have lived in the past or from water-based lives to those that may use liquid hydrocarbons as solvents, such as in lakes, oceans, and aquifers. Investigate current potential chemical bio-signatures.

See also: Jason W. Burns, Elizabeth P. Turtle, Melissa G. Trainer, Ralph D. Lorenz, Shannon M. Mackenzie, William B. Brinkahoff, Morgan L. Cable, “Scientific Goals and Objectives of Dragonfly Titan Rotorcraft Relocatable Lander” , Carolyn M. Ernst, Caroline Freissinet, Kevin P. Hand, Alexander G. Hayes, Sarah M. Hörst, Jeffrey R. Johnson, Erich Karkoschka, David J. Lawrence, Alice Le Gall ,, Juan M. Lora, Christopher P. McKay , Richard S. Miller, Scott L. March, Catherine D. Niesh, Claire E. Newman, Jorge Martínez, Mark P. Panning, Anne M. Parsons, Patrick N. Peprowski, Linney C. Quick, Yani Raidbo, Scott CR Rafkin , Hiroaki Shiraishi, Jason M. Soderblom, Kristin S. Sotzen, Angela M. Stickle, Ellen R. Stofan, Cyril Szopa, Tetsuya Tokano, Thomas Wagner, Colin Wilson, R. AileenYingst, Kris Zacny, Simon C. Stähler, July 19, 2021 Planetary Science Journal..
DOI: 10.3847 / PSJ / abfdcf

NASA’s Dragonfly mission to Saturn’s moon Titan announces major scientific goals NASA’s Dragonfly mission to Saturn’s moon Titan announces major scientific goals

Back to top button