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NASA to launch Dragonfly

Topics covered:

  1. Awareness in space.

NASA to launch Dragonfly

 

What to study?

For prelims and mains: key objectives, significance of the mission and related facts on Titan.

 

Context: NASA plans to launch an unmanned nuclear-powered drone, Dragonfly as early as 2026 to search for life on Saturn’s largest moon, Titan.

 

Key facts:

  • Dragonfly aims to search for signs of microbial alien life on Saturn’s moon Titan, while navigating its earth-like gravity and aerodynamics in the process.
  • The mission will succeed NASA’s Cassini probe, which ended its 13-year mission orbiting Saturn in September 2017 by diving into Saturn’s atmosphere. 
    Dragonfly mission is a part of NASA’s New Frontiers program, which includes a series of space exploration missions, which are being conducted with the purpose of researching several of the Solar System bodies, including the dwarf planet Pluto.
  • The New Frontiers programme also includes Pluto probe New Horizons, Jupiter probe Juno and OSIRIS-Rex asteroid mission.
  • The Dragonfly mission replaces a previously discontinued concept project called Titan Saturn System Mission (TSSM), which required a balloon probe to circumnavigate Titan. 

 

Why study Titan?

Titan is an analog to the very early Earth, and can provide clues to how life may have arisen on our planet.

Titan is larger than the planet Mercury and is the second largest moon in our solar system

As it orbits Saturn, it is about 886 million miles (1.4 billion kilometers) away from the Sun, about 10 times farther than Earth. Because it is so far from the Sun, its surface temperature is around -290 degrees Fahrenheit (-179 degrees Celsius). Its surface pressure is also 50 percent higher than Earth’s.

 

Objectives of the mission:

  • Explore diverse environments from organic dunes to the floor of an impact crater where liquid water and complex organic materials key to life once existed together for possibly tens of thousands of years.
  • Study how far prebiotic chemistry may have progressed.
  • Investigate the moon’s atmospheric and surface properties and its subsurface ocean and liquid reservoirs.
  • Search for chemical evidence of past or extant life.

 

Sources: the Hindu.