Details about the Titan landing site of NASA’s Dragonfly mission

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Details about the Titan landing site of NASA’s Dragonfly mission

Thanks to a new analysis of radar images obtained by the space probe cassiniscientists now know what type of terrain the mission NASA dragon fly will land on Titan. The device will land on the largest satellite of Saturn in an area made up of dunes and broken icy rocks.

The Dragonfly mission is scheduled to be launched in 2027. It will consist of sending to Titan a propeller-driven flying machine who go explore the satellite from the air. According to NASA, the range of the flying machine will be much greater than that of a rover. Dragonfly will indeed be able to cover a distance of 16 km for half an hour of flight. But before it can begin its exploration work, the craft will first have to land using a parachute.

The Shangri-La region on Titan as seen by Cassini
Credits NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI/Paris-Diderot University

According to information, Dragonfly’s landing site is named Shangri Laand it is a field of dunes near the Selk crater which is 80 km wide. This area was photographed by the Cassini probe during the latter’s mission around Saturn between 2004 and 2017. Today, a team of scientists led by Lea Bonnefoy from Cornell University analyzed the data collected by Cassini and was able to produce the most accurate assessment of the landing site.

A very interesting site

According to Bonnefoy, Dragonfly will land on a scientifically remarkable site. It is a dry equatorial area of ​​Titan where liquid methane sometimes falls, but it is mostly close to a desert that one would find on Earth with dunes, small mountains and a crater.

The Selk crater is of great interest to scientists. The latter believe that it dates from around 200 million years ago, and that the impact which caused its appearance must have melted the local ice, causing interactions between fresh liquid water and organic molecules present in the hydrocarbon mixture at the surface.

Data collected by Cassini

Radar images of the area captured by Cassini are quite limited. The resolution is indeed 300 m per pixel maximum. However, these images provide multiple viewing angles. During 127 approaches carried out by Cassini, the latter observed markers in the landing zone of Dragonfly from different angles. The angles of inclination were between 5 and 72 degrees.

By analyzing how the terrain cast different shadow shapes depending on the viewing angle, Bonnefoy’s team was able to determine the topography of the places within the limit of the resolution of the image. Scientists have only detected no particular obstacles that Dragonfly should avoid.

The researchers were also able to calculate the height of the edges of the Selk crater. This height varies from 200 m to 600 m, which is higher than what scientists thought. This indicates that the crater rims are not as eroded as expected.


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