NASA’s Dragonfly mission to Saturn’s largest moon will land on sand dunes and broken, icy rocky terrain, according to a new analysis of radar images from the Cassini spacecraft.
Launched in 2027, Dragonfly is a rotorcraft that will arrive and explore in 2034 titanium from the air. Its range will be greater than that of a wheeled rover, with Dragonfly able to travel about 10 miles (16 kilometers) per half-hour flight. According to NASA. During its two-year mission, it will survey an area hundreds of miles or kilometers wide. However, before taking to the skies on its own, Dragonfly must first parachute to Titan, making a soft landing on frozen terrain obscured by the density. hydrocarbon fog that fills the moon’s atmosphere.
Dragonfly will have a landing spot Shangri-La A 50-mile-wide (80-kilometer) dune field near Selk Crater. This region was photographed by NASA Cassini spacecraft during his mission Saturn Between 2004 and 2017, and led by Cornell University planetary scientist Leah Bonnefoy, a team of scientists revisited that history to produce the most accurate estimate yet of Dragonfly’s proposed landing site.
“Dragonfly … is going into a scientifically remarkable area,” Bonnefoy said statement (opens in new tab). “It will land in the equatorial, dry region of Titan. Sometimes it rains liquid methane, but it’s more like a desert on Earth with sand dunes, small mountains and an impact crater.”
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Selk is an interesting place. Geologically young, estimated to be perhaps a few hundred million years old, the impact that ejected it would have melted the local ice, causing interactions between fresh liquid water and organic molecules present in the hydrocarbon soup on Titan’s surface. Astrobiologists are particularly interested in prebiotic chemistry—chemistry that involves carbon-rich molecules but is not mediated by living things—that would result.
However, Cassini’s radar images of the area are limited, with a resolution of 1,000 feet (300 meters) per pixel at best. “There’s probably a lot of little rivers and vistas that we don’t get to see,” Bonnefoy said.
Thanks to the European Space Agency, scientists know that such rivers exist on Titan Huygens LanderIn January 2005, he sat aboard Cassini before parachuting down to Titan’s surface. But these rivers aren’t full of liquid water—minus 290 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 179 degrees Celsius) is too cold for that. Instead, liquid methane and ethane rain down from the cold sky and wash away the water-ice core and pour into tributaries that feed the great lakes.
What Cassini’s images provide are multiple viewing angles. Each time it flew by Titan – it approached the moon 127 times during its mission – it looked at landmarks in the Dragonfly landing area from different angles, with inclinations ranging from 5 degrees to 72 degrees.
By analyzing how the terrain casts variously shaped shadows based on viewing angle, Bonnefoy’s team was able to map the region’s topography within the limits of the image’s resolution, without finding any major show-stopping obstacles for the Dragonfly to avoid.
The scientists also calculated the height of Selk Crater’s rim and found that it ranges from less than 650 feet (200 m) to over 2,000 feet (600 m) in some parts, which is higher than expected, indicating a less eroded crater. . rhyme
The study was published in August. 30 inches The Planetary Science Journal (opens in new tab).
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