AUG 04, 2019 8:32 AM PDT

How NASA's Dragonfly Mission Will Teach Us More About Titan

WRITTEN BY: Anthony Bouchard

If you haven’t already heard, NASA is planning to launch a new mission dubbed Project Dragonfly, which will study Saturn’s moon Titan to learn more about the distant world’s chemical and physical characteristics. Perhaps more intriguingly, Dragonfly will become the first space-rated drone-like spacecraft ever sent to another world.

NASA’s sustained interest with Titan begins with the world’s eerie similarity to early Earth. During the Cassini mission, a hitchhiking lander called Huygens landed on Titan to capture measurements and footage. Among its findings, Titan’s robust atmosphere is one of its most distinguished qualities, with a rich Earth-like landscape carved out of methane-based surface oceans being another.

Like any other mission to another world, NASA’s Dragonfly drone will be outfitted with powerful science instruments. One of such is a pneumatic drill with onboard sensors that can detect the chemical composition of anything it drills into. Another instrument, dubbed a seismometer, will attempt to reveal clues about Titan’s internal planetary processes by detecting quakes and looking for evidence for a sub-surface ocean.

One challenge of this mission is the fact that Titan has a dense atmosphere and resides so far away from the Sun. This makes solar panels impractical, and so mission scientists will instead turn to a radioactive energy source, taking advantage of something called the Seebeck effect to convert heat from the radioactive decay of a radioactive element into electricity.

When Dragonfly arrives at Titan, it will be fully-autonomous. By day, it will explore Titan’s surface, and by night, it will charge its batteries. Bringing this conceptual mission to reality will be challenging, but planetary scientists are hopeful that it will benefit science in incredible new ways as we learn more about an incredible world at the edge of our reach.

About the Author
  • Fascinated by scientific discoveries and media, Anthony found his way here at LabRoots, where he would be able to dabble in the two. Anthony is a technology junkie that has vast experience in computer systems and automobile mechanics, as opposite as those sound.
You May Also Like
SEP 29, 2019
Space & Astronomy
SEP 29, 2019
Elon Musk Shows Off SpaceX's Shiny New Starship
If you’ve been paying any attention to SpaceX lately, then you’ve undoubtedly caught wind of the plethora of controlled launching and landing t...
OCT 09, 2019
Space & Astronomy
OCT 09, 2019
How Astronomers Determine the Universe's Age
The universe is so old and so large that the Earth is but an insignificant speck of dust by comparison. Astronomers are always trying to make sense of the...
NOV 12, 2019
Space & Astronomy
NOV 12, 2019
Did You Miss the Mercury Transit? Here's NASA's Footage
Monday was a particularly exciting day for amateur astronomers. It was the day that the planet Mercury performed a visible transit across the Sun’s s...
NOV 17, 2019
Space & Astronomy
NOV 17, 2019
Hayabusa-2 Departs Ryugu Asteroid to Return to Earth with Samples
It’s been just over a year since JAXA’s renowned Hayabusa-2 mission arrived at asteroid 162173 Ryugu to study the dynamics of the distant space...
DEC 03, 2019
Chemistry & Physics
DEC 03, 2019
Wanna Venture Outside of the Solar System? Try a "Skyhook"
Rocket engines are expensive to build, and their speed and the distance of travel are also limited by their own weight and the fuel they carry. But there&#...
DEC 18, 2019
Chemistry & Physics
DEC 18, 2019
Physics in Peril? (Part II) - Lost in the "Darkness"
Not many share the same antagonistic view with Sabine Hossenfelder, the physicist who associates the current awkward state of physical science with theoret...
Loading Comments...