Looking for life on Titan with NASA Dragonfly

astrophysics careers
By Erin F.

Hi everyone! It's your friendly neighborhood astrophysicist here to tell you a little bit about my work with the NASA Dragonfly Mission.

What is Titan?

Titan is a moon of Saturn and (in my totally completely unbiased opinion) the coolest place in the Solar System. It has the most similar atmosphere to our own and it’s the only other place in the Solar System with standing liquid on its surface, but instead of liquid water, it has liquid methane. It might even have liquid water deep underground! All of this means Titan is a place that could have life. But in order to find out, we’re sending:

NASA Dragonfly

The Dragonfly space craft will be like none other. Unlike the Mars rovers, Dragonfly will be a rotocopter (imagine a large drone) that will be able to fly around Titan, taking samples and readings of its surface and atmosphere. Set to launch in 2027 and to arrive at Titan in the 2030s, Dragonfly will tell us so much about whether or not Titan has or could have life on it, not to mention help us learn more about the conditions that might’ve made life possible on Earth.

What do you have to do with the project, Erin?

As you can imagine, putting a spacecraft on a moon that's nearly a billion miles away is not easy. We want to make sure that all of our hard work to build Dragonfly doesn’t go to waste once it finally gets there after being in flight for 7 years. To make sure it isn’t damaged or destroyed on Titan, we need to know what kinds of conditions it’ll be flying into. That’s where I come in. I use computers to model Titan’s atmosphere and surface conditions in order to make sure that Dragonfly will be up for the mission. Dragonfly will be landing near the equator, which has lots of dunes and small methane lakes. A previous mission to Saturn observed storms in this region, so I’m going to model the climate there and try to predict what Dragonfly might possibly encounter.


academics study skills MCAT medical school admissions SAT expository writing college admissions English MD/PhD admissions GMAT LSAT GRE writing strategy chemistry physics math biology ACT graduate admissions language learning law school admissions test anxiety interview prep MBA admissions academic advice premed homework help personal statements AP exams creative writing MD career advice study schedules summer activities Common Application history test prep philosophy computer science secondary applications organic chemistry economics supplements PSAT admissions coaching grammar law statistics & probability psychology ESL research 1L CARS SSAT covid-19 legal studies logic games reading comprehension dental admissions mathematics USMLE Spanish calculus engineering parents Latin verbal reasoning DAT excel mentorship political science French Linguistics Tutoring Approaches academic integrity case coaching chinese AMCAS DO MBA coursework PhD admissions Social Advocacy admissions advice biochemistry classics diversity statement genetics geometry kinematics medical school mental health quantitative reasoning skills time management Anki English literature IB exams ISEE MD/PhD programs algebra algorithms art history artificial intelligence astrophysics athletics business business skills careers cold emails data science internships letters of recommendation poetry presentations resume science social sciences software engineering study abroad tech industry trigonometry work and activities 2L 3L Academic Interest DMD EMT FlexMed Fourier Series Greek Health Professional Shortage Area Italian Lagrange multipliers London MD vs PhD MMI Montessori National Health Service Corps Pythagorean Theorem Python STEM Sentence Correction Step 2 TMDSAS Zoom acids and bases amino acids analysis essay architecture argumentative writing brain teaser campus visits cantonese capacitors capital markets cell biology central limit theorem chemical engineering chess chromatography class participation climate change clinical experience community service constitutional law consulting cover letters curriculum demonstrated interest dental school distance learning electricity and magnetism enrichment european history executive function finance first generation student freewriting fun facts functions gap year genomics harmonics health policy history of medicine history of science hybrid vehicles hydrophobic effect ideal gas law induction information sessions institutional actions integrated reasoning intern international students investing investment banking lab reports logic mandarin chinese mba mechanical engineering medical physics meiosis microeconomics mitosis music music theory neurology neuroscience office hours operating systems organization pedagogy phrase structure rules plagiarism pre-dental proofs pseudocode psych/soc quantum mechanics resistors resonance revising scholarships school selection simple linear regression slide decks sociology software stem cells stereochemistry study spots synthesis teaching technical interviews transfer typology units virtual interviews writer's block writing circles