Quantcast

NASA Plans Drone Mission to Titan, Saturn's Largest Moon

Science
An artist's depiction of Dragonfly. Johns Hopkins APL / NASA

U.S. space agency NASA said Thursday its new mission would explore Titan, Saturn's largest moon, using a drone lander called Dragonfly.


The crewless craft with four propellers is slated to launch in 2026 and reach its destination in 2034.

"What really excites me about this mission is that Titan has all the ingredients needed for life," said Lori Glaze, director of NASA's planetary science division.

What Will the Mission Involve?


The nuclear-powered Dragonfly is expected to spend two years flying vast distances across Titan's surface and touching down at different sites of interest.

It will visit the icy moon's dunes and the floor of a crater to search for signs of past or present microbial life. Its instruments will also investigate the atmosphere and an underground ocean.

"Visiting this mysterious ocean world could revolutionize what we know about life in the universe," NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said. "Titan is unlike any other place in our solar system, and the most comparable to early Earth."

This similarity to our own planet means Saturn's moon could potentially hold clues for researchers about the origins of life.

What Do We Know About Titan?


Based on images collected by a previous mission, Titan has a rocky, rugged landscape, with lakes made of methane and ethane. It also has an ocean below its crust. It is the only place, besides Earth, known to have liquid rivers, lakes and seas.

Of the more than 150 known moons in the solar system, Titan is the second-largest, and the only one with a thick, hazy atmosphere. Like Earth, its atmosphere is nitrogen-based. But unlike Earth, Titan has clouds and rain of methane.

The European Space Agency's Cassini-Huygens probe became the first spacecraft to land on Titan in 2005. That mission measured the temperature, pressure and density of the atmosphere and took pictures of the moon's surface.

The newly announced Dragonfly mission will be developed and led by Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory in the U.S. state of Maryland.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Deutsche Welle.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

With well over a billion cars worldwide, electric vehicles are still only a small percentage. An economist from the University of Michigan Energy Institute says that is likely to change. Maskot / Getty Images

In 2018, there were about 5 million electric cars on the road globally. It sounds like a large number, but with well over a billion cars worldwide, electric vehicles are still only a small percentage.

Read More
Nestlé is accelerating its efforts to bring functional, safe and environmentally friendly packaging solutions to the market and to address the global challenge of plastic packaging waste. Nestlé / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Nestlé, the world's largest food company, said it will invest up to $2 billion to address the plastic waste crisis that it is largely responsible for.

Read More
Sponsored
Determining the effects of media on people's lives requires knowledge of what people are actually seeing and doing on those screens. Vertigo3d / iStock / Getty Images Plus

By Byron Reeves, Nilam Ram and Thomas N. Robinson

There's a lot of talk about digital media. Increasing screen time has created worries about media's impacts on democracy, addiction, depression, relationships, learning, health, privacy and much more. The effects are frequently assumed to be huge, even apocalyptic.

Read More
Indigenous people of various ethnic groups protest calling for demarcation of lands during the closing of the 'Red January - Indigenous Blood', in Paulista Avenue, in São Paulo, Brazil, Jan. 31, 2019. Cris Faga / NurPhoto / Getty Images

By Raphael Tsavkko Garcia

Rarely has something so precious fallen into such unsafe hands. Since Jair Bolsonaro took the Brazilian presidency in 2019, the Amazon, which makes up 10 percent of our planet's biodiversity and absorbs an estimated 5 percent of global carbon emissions, has been hit with a record number of fires and unprecedented deforestation.

Read More
Microsoft's main campus in Redmond, Washington on May 12, 2017. GLENN CHAPMAN / AFP via Getty Images

Microsoft announced ambitious new plans to become carbon negative by 2030 and then go one step further and remove by 2050 all the carbon it has emitted since the company was founded in 1975, according to a company press release.

Read More