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NASA Plans Drone Mission to Titan, Saturn's Largest Moon
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.
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Poverty and violence in Central America are major factors driving migration to the United States. But there's another force that's often overlooked: climate change.
Retired Lt. Cmdr. Oliver Leighton Barrett is with the Center for Climate and Security. He says that in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, crime and poor economic conditions have long led to instability.
"And when you combine that with protracted drought," he says, "it's just a stressor that makes everything worse."
Barrett says that with crops failing, many people have fled their homes.
"These folks are leaving not because they're opportunists," he says, "but because they are in survival mode. You have people that are legitimate refugees."
So Barrett supports allocating foreign aid to programs that help people in drought-ridden areas adapt to climate change.
"There are nonprofits that are operating in those countries that have great ideas in terms of teaching farmers to use the land better, to harvest water better, to use different variety of crops that are more resilient to drought conditions," he says. "Those are the kinds of programs I think are needed."
So he says the best way to reduce the number of climate change migrants is to help people thrive in their home countries.
Reporting credit: Deborah Jian Lee / ChavoBart Digital Media.
Reposted with permission from Yale Climate Connections.
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