Dragonfly Mission Will Fly Around Titan Looking for Origins, Signs of Life

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On Thursday, NASA announced the target of its next expedition probe into the corners of our Solar System: Titan, Saturn's largest moon and one of the most intriguing places in the hunt for extraterrestrial life.

Like those missions, Dragonfly is expected to expand our view of distant objects in the solar system - in this case, Saturn's moon Titan, whose freakish chemistry and thick atmosphere have intrigued scientists for years.

It will launch in 2026 and arrive at Titan in 2034. "Titan is most comparable to early Earth". The mission aims to "investigate organic chemistry, evaluate habitability and search for chemical signatures of past or even present life", he added.

Dragonfly is part of NASA's New Frontiers program, which is responsible for the New Horizons mission to Pluto, the Juno mission now studying Jupiter and OSIRIS-REx, which is orbiting asteroid Bennu and planning to return samples back to Earth.

The Dragonfly spacecraft is able to land on the world and then hop back up like a drone - flying over the surface before dropping down on other parts of Titan that might be of interest.

"We're absolutely thrilled and ready to jump on it and get going to go to Titan", Turtle said on a NASA webcast. Like Earth, it has clouds, lakes and rivers.

Titan is similar chemically to Earth before life evolved, the agency said.

It's remarkable to think of this rotorcraft flying miles and miles across the organic sand dunes of Saturn's largest moon. Dragonfly's ability to travel across the surface will let researchers visit several interesting sites over the course of the planned two year mission, potentially traveling hundreds of kilometers during that time.

New Frontiers refers to a series of missions, developed in 2002, to conduct compelling expeditions of our solar system. It will finally reach the Selk impact crater, where there is evidence of past liquid water, organics - the complex molecules that contain carbon, combined with hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen - and energy, which together make up the recipe for life. Because it is so far from the Sun, its surface temperature is around -290 degrees Fahrenheit (-179 degrees Celsius).

"Dragonfly is a bold, game-changing way to explore the solar system", said Ralph Semmel, the director of Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, which was selected by NASA to lead the mission. The lander will eventually fly more than 108 miles (175 kilometers) - almost double the distance traveled to date by all the Mars rovers combined.

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