Titan is one of the strangest and most interesting objects in the solar system. It is immersed in a hazy atmosphere, behind which are hidden shallow lakes of liquid hydrocarbons. It is known that in 2027, NASA will launch a robotic helicopter on this satellite of Saturn.
Consequently, we can now have a better idea of what kind of scenario awaits NASA’s Dragonfly mission.
The probe will approach Saturn’s largest moon in 2034 and land in the Shangri-La dune field near Selki Crater. Researchers call this area scientifically outstanding and worth exploring, and there is still much to learn about it.
A new study has identified six specific sites in the region that are likely to be covered by sand dunes and ice sheets. This work forms the basis of models and hypotheses that Dragonfly will be able to test once it lands there.
“Dragonfly will sit in a dry region near Titan’s equator. Titan is a cold, thick atmosphere, hydrocarbon body. Sometimes liquid methane rains there, but it’s more like Earth’s deserts, where you’ll find dunes, small mountains, and impact craters. We are closely observing the landing site, studying its structure and surface,” says Leah Bonfoy, a planetary scientist at Cornell University in New York.
Among these close-up observations is a detailed analysis of radar images taken by the Cassini spacecraft: finding out how radar signals change and reflect from different angles; As a result, the researchers got some idea about specific sections of Titan’s surface.
Cassini photos have a resolution of only about 300 meters per pixel. Therefore, the team also used data from the Huygens probe, which landed south of the new target in 2005.
“We’re going to be paying a lot of attention to the Selkie Crater region in the next few years,” says Alex Hayes, a planetary scientist at Cornell University.
Dragonfly e. year The helicopter will be a helicopter-like device, a propeller-driven flying machine that will operate like a regular consumer drone. Its mass will be about 450 kilograms and it will have eight meter-long rotors.
In Titan’s weakly windy, low-gravity atmosphere, Dragonfly will fly at a maximum speed of 36 km/h and will fly further and further away from its landing site.
Because Titan resembles early Earth in many ways, scientists hope to learn a lot about both our planet and Saturn’s moons. Ultimately, once Dragonfly arrives at its destination, we’ll learn a lot more about Titan, just as the late Curiosity taught us a lot about Mars.
The study was published in the Planetary Science Journal.