- The Dragonfly mission scheduled for 2027, will give NASA scientists a way to study the chemistry of Titan.
- One of the most Earth-like bodies in the solar system, Titan has potential for life and NASA wants to find out if there is validity to this.
- The mission will carry a mass spectrometer to the Moon’s surface where samples can be analysed in situ.
While the James Webb Space Telescope has reignited the search for habitable exoplanets (planets outside of our solar system) NASA isn’t waiting to send vessels lightyears away, at least not yet. However, the spacefaring agency does intend to get a better understanding of planetary bodies within our own solar system.
While humanity knows a fair amount about our own system, there is more to discover and NASA intends to do just that with a mission to one of Saturn’s moons, Titan.
Titan is an incredibly fascinating moon. The largest moon of the planet, Titan is shrouded in a golden haze which hides standing bodies of liquid, much like Earth. This liquid however, isn’t water and many believe the planetary body is home to liquid methane oceans.
To find out more, NASA is eyeing a mission with a launch date of 2027. Dubbed Dragonfly, the mission will see the Dragonfly Mass Spectrometer sent to Titan to give scientists the ability to determine the chemistry at work on Titan’s surface.
“We want to know if the type of chemistry that could be important for early pre-biochemical systems on Earth is taking place on Titan,” said Melissa Trainer of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre, Greenbelt, Maryland.
What got our inner space nerds excited was the prospect of another helicopter on an alien planet. NASA says that a robotic rotorcraft will take advantage of Titan’s low gravity and dense atmosphere to relocate the equipment onboard and get a clearer understanding of the planet. Most exciting is that the Dragonfly mission will analyse samples in situ.
“At each site, samples less than a gram in size will be drilled out of the surface by the Drill for Acquisition of Complex Organics (DrACO) and brought inside the lander’s main body, to a place called the “attic” that houses the DraMS instrument. There, they will be irradiated by an onboard laser or vaporized in an oven to be measured by DraMS. A mass spectrometer is an instrument that analyzes the various chemical components of a sample by separating these components down into their base molecules and passing them through sensors for identification,” NASA said in a blog post.
The Dragonfly mission isn’t going to reach Titan until the middle of the decade starting in 2030, that’s also providing that it launches as intended in 2027. It’s said a trip to Saturn takes around eight years when Saturn is closest to Earth which is still a jaw dropping 1.2 billion kilometres.
However, the Voyager vessels managed that trip in around three years and two months while making use of various gravitational effects to push deeper into space.
With Titan being one of the more Earth-like bodies in our solar system, it’s about time that we took a closer look at it. Don’t expect to be moving there anytime soon, however, given its distance from the Sun, the Moon has a temperature of -179 degrees Celsius.
The potential for Titan to be housing life both as we know it and as we don’t then, is incredibly exciting.