Never miss a story

Get subscribed to our newsletter

Titan in front of Saturn as seen by Cassini. (Image credit: NASA). VOA

Saturn’s moon Titan has all the right ingredients for life. NASA’s newly announced mission, Dragonfly, will explore the icy moon from the air and the ground to determine whether life ever arose there.

A familiar alien landscape

At first glance, Titan looks a lot like Earth. Lakes and seas are scattered across the northern hemisphere, and occasional rains dampen its sandy surface. The similarities end there – Titan is so cold that water exists as rock-hard ice, and oily methane falls from the sky and trickles into the seas. The sand is made up of organic materials built from carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and oxygen, completely unlike what you’d find on any beach on Earth.

“One of the things I think is so exciting about Titan is how it can be alien and familiar at the same time. It’s 94 K [-290°F/-179°C] – it’s totally different material than what we’re used to interacting with on a daily basis: water-ice bedrock and liquid methane reservoirs and organic sand dunes,” said Elizabeth Turtle, Dragonfly’s principal investigator.

Artist’s rendering of Dragonfly in flight over Titan. (Image credit: Johns Hopkins APL). VOA

Titan’s surface is hidden from view by its hazy atmosphere, which is four times denser than Earth’s. Combined with the low gravity – just one-seventh as strong as what we’re used to – the thick atmosphere makes Titan an ideal target for an airborne explorer.

The idea of building an aircraft to fly in Titan’s thick atmosphere isn’t new, but it wasn’t until drone technology became more advanced that the Dragonfly team realized they could make their dream of flying on Titan a reality.

Leapfrogging across Titan

With its two sets of four propellers stacked on top of one another, Dragonfly looks a little bit like a drone, but it’s much bigger than something you would fly around in your backyard – around 3 meters long and more than a meter tall. The design will allow Dragonfly to take pictures from the air and land on Titan’s frozen surface for a closer view.

It will initially target a region near the moon’s equator that is covered in sand dunes, similar to what is found in deserts on Earth. From there, it will begin to explore the moon in a “leapfrog” way, scouting beyond its next target to see what lies ahead, then flying back to its planned landing site to touch down and analyze samples of the surface, snap photographs and scan for earthquakes – or titanquakes, rather.

Representative-color image of Titan’s surface. (Image credit: NASA). VOA

Traveling eight kilometers per leap, Dragonfly will make its way toward Selk crater, over 100 kilometers away. Scientists think that the heat from the collision that formed the crater would have liquefied the water ice in Titan’s crust, creating an environment with all the necessary components for life. The Dragonfly team hopes to learn whether combining organic material with liquid water and energy in the form of heat could have caused complex molecules to develop – or even life itself.

“We have this chance to explore a world that we know has all the ingredients for life, but how far did it get towards life?” said Melissa Trainer, deputy principal investigator for the mission.

Looking for life

If life has arisen on Titan, Dragonfly should be able to detect it. One thing its instruments will be on the lookout for is a class of molecules called amino acids, which are found in all life on Earth. Amino acids come in left- and right-handed varieties, just like a pair of gloves. When scientists make amino acids in a lab, they tend to form both kinds in equal amounts. Life, however, seems to prefer the left-handed kind. If amino acids are present on Titan, Dragonfly should be able to tell if there are unequal amounts of left- and right-handed varieties – a sign that life is present on the frozen surface.

Radar image of sand dunes in the Shangri-La region of Titan, where Dragonfly will land. (Image credit: NASA). VOA

Dragonfly will launch in 2026 and arrive at Titan in 2034 after an eight-year interplanetary cruise. The science and engineering teams have plenty to do in the meantime. “We have to finish designing and building a spacecraft, we have to test a bunch of instruments and get them calibrated,” said science team member Sarah Hörst. “There’s a lot of work to do … I can’t wait to get started!”

ALSO READ: NASA Selects Eight New Teams to Conduct Research about Moon

It’s a long way off, but the team is confident that the mission will be worth the wait and is excited to share what they learn with the public. “We want everyone to be able to come along on the journey to explore Titan,” Turtle said. (VOA)


Photo by Wikimedia Commons

Indian author and feminist, Kamla Bhasin passed away at the agr of 74.

Renowned feminist activist, author, and a face of the women's rights movement in India, Kamla Bhasin, passed away today morning at the age of 74.

The news of the same was shared by activist Kavita Srivastava on Twitter. The tweet said, "Kamla Bhasin, our dear friend, passed away around 3am today 25th Sept. This is a big setback for the women's movement in India and the South Asian region. She celebrated life whatever the adversity. Kamla you will always live in our hearts. In Sisterhood, which is in deep grief."

Keep Reading Show less

PM Modi was received at the airport by India's permanent representative to the UN ambassador T S Tirumurti and India's ambassador to USA Taranjit Singh Sandhu.

The 76th United Nations General Assembly session opened discussion on 14th September. The high-level General debate began on 21st September and it will continue till 27th September. The agenda of this year's UNGA session is 'Building Resilience through hope to recover from COVID-19, rebuild sustainably, respond to the needs of the planet, respect the rights of people, and revitalize the United Nations'. Only 109 heads of state and government will attend the session in person and approximately 60 other speakers will address the debate via pre-recorded video statements due to the ongoing pandemic.

PM Narendra Modi is the first world leader who has been scheduled to address the General Assembly. He landed in New York at 6:00 AM (IST). "Landed in New York City. Will be addressing the UNGA at 6:30 PM (IST) on the 25th," he tweeted. He was received at the airport by India's permanent representative to the UN ambassador Mr. T S Tirumurti and ambassador of India to the USA Mr. Taranjit Singh Sandhu.

Keep Reading Show less
Photo by febri sym on Unsplash

Achieving soft, beautiful and happy skin is a dream for most of us or at least a long-pending item on our wish list.

Achieving soft, beautiful and happy skin is a dream for most of us or at least a long-pending item on our wish list. While there are lot of suggestions, a laundry list of do's and don'ts to follow, there are some basics that don't change. We have to understand that happy skin is a holistic process that requires one to work on building healthy habits combined with good skincare.

Here's a ready reckoner by ITC Fiama of tried and tested skincare habits that will serve as a reminder that skincare doesn't need to be complicated, it just needs to be consistent.

* Cleanse & Moisturise -- The first and the simplest step towards healthy skin is regular cleansing and moisturising, it is advisable to use a moisturizing body soap that ensures your skin gets the right nutrients and remains supple and nourished. A great product suited to this requirement is Fiama Gel Bathing Bar, which is enriched with nature's goodness. Fiama's bathing bars come in 5 variants and they help moisturize the skin making it appear soft, happy and bouncy.

Keep reading... Show less