Caltech Logo

Geology Club Seminar

Thursday, November 14, 2019
4:00pm to 5:00pm
Add to Cal
Arms 151 (Buwalda Room)
Exploring Titan: Discoveries in the laboratory and future in situ work with Dragonfly
Morgan Cable, Research Scientist and Group Supervisor of Astrobiology and Ocean Worlds Group, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory,

Titan, the largest moon of Saturn, contains a vast inventory of organic molecules on the surface of a water-ice-dominated ocean world, making it a prebiotic chemical laboratory on a planetary scale. Many of the organic molecules on Titan's surface appear to associate in a manner akin to minerals on Earth, forming molecular solids, co-crystals, and hydrates. These ‘molecular minerals' exhibit unique physical and mechanical properties compared to their pure components, and may affect formation mechanisms and timescales of landscape evolution on Titan. We have characterized some of these molecular minerals in the laboratory, but in situ data will be critical for validating this work.

Dragonfly is a rotorcraft lander concept recently selected under the NASA New Frontiers Program to explore Titan's surface. The aerial mobility of Dragonfly enables sampling of materials and detailed measurement of surface composition at dozens of sites in different geologic settings up to hundreds of kilometers apart. Dragonfly would perform wide-ranging in situ exploration and discovery to study prebiotic chemistry and document the habitability of this extraterrestrial environment, including possible characterization of any molecular minerals as predicted by laboratory work.