NASA recently announced they’ll be sending their first flying space vehicle, Dragonfly, to Titan – one of the moons of Saturn!
This won’t be the first time we’re visiting Titan. Back in 2005, the Cassini spacecraft deployed a small probe called Huygens to Titan’s surface. The Huygens probe got the information needed to design a full-blown exploratory spacecraft like Dragonfly by studying what the atmosphere and surface were made of.
And unlike the Huygens probe, Dragonfly will be able to move from area to area by flying and landing (like a dragonfly!). Titan is an ideal world for flying because it has a denser atmosphere and 1/7 the gravity of Earth.
So, why is NASA interested in Titan? Among many reasons, Titan has something in common with Earth – a methane cycle just like Earth’s water cycle. Basically, Titan has rivers and lakes of liquid methane, as well as rain and clouds. This cycle helps to create and distribute organic compounds that could mean life!
We also know that Titan has water underneath its surface. Titan is very cold (almost -300 degrees Fahrenheit) so the water underground is more like the bedrock we find on Earth. But not all hope for liquid water is lost. There may also be things called cryovolcanoes (think: ice volcanoes) that could erupt with liquid water.
Liquid water, in combination with the organic compounds on the surface of the moon, could be the ingredients needed for life to thrive on Titan!
NASA plans to launch Dragonfly in 2026, and arrive at Titan in 2034 where it will spend about 2.5 years studying the moon. We can’t wait!
Interested in more space stories like this? Stop by our all-live planetarium show, “Wonders of the Night Sky,” in the Jennifer Chalsty Planetarium. A portion is always set aside for LSC Space News Now stories.