NASA’s Dragonfly will land on dunes and shattered ice on Saturn’s moon Titan

NASA’s Dragonfly helicopter is scheduled to reach the Selk crater region on Saturn’s moon Titan in 2034. Scientists have characterized the landscape of this region by analyzing radar images of the area taken by the Cassini spacecraft during its 13-year exploration of the Saturnian system. In short, it’s a patchwork of sand dunes and broken ice.

NASA says Titan is an ideal target for studying astrobiology, prebiological chemistry and the potential habitability of an extraterrestrial world. This is because it is an ocean world dominated by water and ice with a carbon-rich chemistry. The moon has a subsurface ocean of liquid water, methane lakes, and surface rivers. There are even methane clouds and rai, along with an atmosphere that allows Dragonfly to fly.

“Dragonfly — the first flying machine for a world in the outer solar system — flies into a scientifically remarkable territory,” said Léa Bonnefoy, a postdoctoral fellow at Cornell University, in a press release. Bonnefoy is co-author of the study published in The Planetary Science Journal in August.

“Dragonfly will land in an equatorial, arid region of Titan — a cold, dense-atmospheric hydrocarbon world. Sometimes it rains liquid methane, but it’s more like a desert on Earth – with dunes, some small mountains and an impact crater. The radar images we have of Titan through Cassini have a best resolution of about 300 meters per pixel, about the size of a football field, and we’ve only seen less than 10% of the surface at that scale. That means there are probably a lot of small rivers and landscapes that we didn’t get to see,” Bonnefoy added.

According to the Cornell Chronicle, Bonnefoy and the other researchers used radar imagery to map six terrains at the site, which helped them characterize the landscape and estimate Selk Crater’s rim elevation. This is important as knowing the shape of the crater is essential to ensure Dragonfly can explore the region correctly.



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