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Plane sent to Saturn's moon may provide info about Earth

Plane sent to Saturn's moon may provide info about Earth


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PROVO — A BYU professor is part of a team that wants to send a plane to Saturn's largest moon, called Titan.

The scientists' plan, published in the journal Experimental Astronomy, would send a nuclear-powered drone to Titan for a year-long flight that would give scientists a close-up look at Titan's surface.

Titan has an atmosphere similar to earth's, and it has been called "the most earth-like object in our solar system." BYU professor Jani Radebaugh said the drone would help scientists look for signs of life.

"Titan is a really interesting place as far as understanding the processes on the early Earth," Radebaugh said in a news release. "It orbits at a good distance, has organic molecules of carbon and hydrogen, there's energy in the atmosphere and perhaps occasionally water on or near the surface - those are the main things considered necessary for life."

Titan, which is 10 times more distant from the sun than Earth and has a methane atmosphere four times as dense, also includes rivers, oceans, mountains, sand dunes and winds.

Current information about Titan comes from the Cassini spacecraft that orbits Saturn. Radebaugh used data and images from Cassini to lead the discovery of Titan's mountains and sand dunes.

According to the news release, the proposed drone would operate on a nuclear battery barely strong enough to power a couple of light bulbs. It would take seven years to get the drone to Titan, but once there it would take about 90 minutes to send back information.

"Nothing is easy in space," Radebaugh said. "But as far as space exploration goes, this is pretty easy to design and fly."

She talks more about the proposed drone and Titan in the video below:

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