NASA’s flying probe lands on the sand and ice dunes of Saturn’s moon

NASA's Dragonfly mission to Titan, Saturn's largest moon, landed on dunes made of sand and crushed ice, according to a new analysis of radar images from the Cassini spacecraft.

BingMag.com NASA’s flying probe lands on the sand and ice dunes of Saturn’s moon

NASA's Dragonfly mission to Titan, Saturn's largest moon, landed on dunes made of sand and crushed ice, according to a new analysis of radar images from the Cassini spacecraft.

The Dragonfly mission, which will be launched in 2027, will include a rotorcraft that will enter Titan in 2034, and this attractive moon It will explore Saturn from the air. According to NASA, this method will have a much greater range than a wheeled rover, with Dragonfly capable of traveling about 16 kilometers per half hour of flight. Thus, during its two-year mission, this flying robot will explore an area of hundreds of kilometers.

However, before Dragonfly can take to the skies of Titan alone, it must first be carried by an umbrella. It should be rescued and have a soft landing on the frozen surface of this moon, whose atmosphere is covered by a dense hydrocarbon fog and it is not possible to observe it from space. For this reason, choosing the landing site was somewhat challenging.

After thorough investigations, the landing site of this probe is the "Shangri-La" hill field near the 80 km crater of "Selk" ) it's been chosen. This region was imaged by NASA's Cassini spacecraft during its mission to Saturn between 2004 and 2017, and a team of scientists led by planetary scientist La Bonnefoy of Cornell University looked back at this data to provide the most accurate assessment of the landing site. They have submitted a proposal for the probe.

Bonfoy said about this proposed location: Dragonfly will go to a significant science area and land in a tropical and dry area of Titan. Where it sometimes rains liquid methane, but it's more like a desert on Earth with hills, a few small mountains, and an impact crater.

Selk is an interesting place. It is estimated to be geologically young, only a few hundred million years old. The massive impact, whose traces are visible in the region, melted local ices and caused interactions between fresh liquid water and organic molecules in the hydrocarbon soup on Titan's surface. Astrobiologists in particular hope to find signs of prebiotic chemistry in this region, chemistry involving carbon-rich molecules but not produced by living organisms.

BingMag.com NASA’s flying probe lands on the sand and ice dunes of Saturn’s moon

Cassini radar image of the area selected for the Dragonfly landing
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI/Universit Paris-Diderot

  • The true depth of the vast lunar sea Saturn's Titan Revealed

The Cassini spacecraft has captured several angles of view of Saturn's moon. From a total of 127 close flights, this probe observed the landmarks of the Dragonfly landing area from different angles ranging from 5 degrees to 72 degrees each time it passed by Titan. Creating different shadow shapes based on viewing angle determined the topography of the area with the resolution available from the images and did not detect any large obstacles that the probe would need to avoid. calculated and found that it varies from less than 200 meters in some parts to 600 meters in other areas. A higher than expected height, indicating that the crater is less eroded.

Cover photo: Graphic design of the Dragonfly probe
Credit: Johns Hopkins APL

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