NASA's Dragonfly to explore Saturn's biggest moon for signs of life

New Dragonfly Mission Flying Landing Sequence Animation

NASA unveiled the latest mission in its New Frontiers program, exploring Saturn's largest moon, Titan, which could potentially host extraterrestrial life. Titan's perplexing rings and chains of carbon are principal to numerous essential biological procedures and may take after the building blocks from which life on Earth originally advanced.

Dragonfly will launch in 2026 and arrive in 2034. The machine will have eight rotor propellers, which will allow it to maneuver like a drone. The probe will then spend at least 2.5 years on Titan and explore around 3,200 mile-wide moon through diverse environments from organic dunes where life, water, and complex organic materials once existed for possibly tens of thousands of years. The moon has lakes of methane, mountains of ice and an ocean below the surface, making it an attractive place to explore whether its environment can support primitive life.

"Additionally, instruments will search for chemical evidence of past or extant life", the statement adds.

"What really excites me about this mission is that Titan has all of the key ingredients needed for life", said Dr Lori Glaze, the director of planetary science at Nasa.

"Visiting this mysterious ocean world could revolutionize what we know about life in the universe", NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement.

An illustration showing Dragonfly rotorcraft-lander approaching a site on Titan.

It will first explore the "Shangri-La" dune fields in short flights while also taking samples along the way until it reaches the Selk crater where there is evidence of past liquid water, energy, and organics.

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The lander could eventually fly more than 175km (108 miles) - almost double the distance travelled to date by all Mars rovers combined. Despite more pressing ambitions like returning to the Moon, launching a new Mars rover, and even planning a manned mission to the Red Planet, NASA announced today that it's already looking for new adventures, and it plans to start with Saturn's moon Titan.

"With the Dragonfly mission, Nasa will once again do what no-one else can do", said the USA space agency's administrator, Jim Bridenstine.

Journal Nature reported that, "Instead of liquid water, Titan has liquid methane". Some organics are produced in clouds and fall to the surface as snow.

This means that the moon's weather and surface processes are similar to those that may have given rise to life our planet.

NASA was torn between sending the Dragonfly to either Titan or to a comet known as 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, which had been previously visited by the Rosetta spacecraft. Titan is about 886 miles from the Sun having a surface temperature of -290 degrees Fahrenheit. Its surface pressure is also 50 percent higher than Earth's.

"Dragonfly marks the first time NASA will fly a multi-rotor vehicle for science on another planet", the space agency said in Thursday's announcement. Entry is FREE - the deadline is Friday 28th June. Larger than the Mercury, it is the second largest moon after Ganymede (Jupiter's moon) in the whole solar system that has a thick water-ice crust.

"We're absolutely thrilled and ready to jump on it and get going to go to Titan", Turtle said on a NASA webcast.

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