Tricorder Tech: Dragonfly Mass Spectrometer (DraMS) Will Study Complex Chemistry On Titan
A new NASA mission to Saturn’s giant moon, Titan, is due to launch in 2027. When it arrives in the mid-2030s, it will begin a journey of discovery that could bring about a new understanding of the development of life in the universe.
This mission, called Dragonfly, will carry an instrument called the Dragonfly Mass Spectrometer (DraMS), designed to help scientists hone in on the chemistry at work on Titan. It may also shed light on the kinds of chemical steps that occurred on Earth that ultimately led to the formation of life, called prebiotic chemistry.
Titan’s abundant complex carbon-rich chemistry, interior ocean, and past presence of liquid water on the surface make it an ideal destination to study prebiotic chemical processes and the potential habitability of an extraterrestrial environment.
Dragonfly Mass Spectrometer (DraMS) – NASA
DraMS will allow scientists back on Earth to remotely study the chemical makeup of the Titanian surface. “We want to know if the type of chemistry that could be important for early pre-biochemical systems on Earth is taking place on Titan,” explains Dr. Melissa Trainer of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland.
Trainer is a planetary scientist and astrobiologist who specializes in Titan and is one of the Dragonfly mission’s deputy principal investigators. She is also lead on the DraMS instrument, which will scan through measurements of samples from Titan’s surface material for evidence of prebiotic chemistry.
To accomplish this, the Dragonfly robotic rotorcraft will capitalize on Titan’s low gravity and dense atmosphere to fly between different points of interest on Titan’s surface, spread as far as several miles apart. This allows Dragonfly to relocate its entire suite of instruments to a new site when the previous one has been fully explored, and provides access to samples in environments with a variety of geologic histories.
At each site, samples less than a gram in size will be drilled out of the surface by the Drill for Acquisition of Complex Organics (DrACO) and brought inside the lander’s main body, to a place called the “attic” that houses the DraMS instrument. There, they will be irradiated by an onboard laser or vaporized in an oven to be measured by DraMS. A mass spectrometer is an instrument that analyzes the various chemical components of a sample by separating these components down into their base molecules and passing them through sensors for identification.
“DraMS is designed to look at the organic molecules that may be present on Titan, at their composition and distribution in different surface environments,” says Trainer. Organic molecules contain carbon and are used by all known forms of life. They are of interest in understanding the formation of life because they can be created by living and non-living processes.
Mass spectrometers determine what’s in a sample by ionizing the material (that is, bombarding it with energy so that the atoms therein become positively or negatively charged) and examining the chemical composition of the various compounds. This involves determining the relationship between the weight of the molecule and its charge, which serves as a signature for the compound.
DraMS was developed in part by the same team at Goddard which developed the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument suite aboard the Curiosity rover. DraMS is designed to survey samples of Titanian surface material in situ, using techniques tested on Mars with the SAM suite.
DraMS LDMS prototype setup at GSFC (top left) with the cross-section of the LDMS-relevant region that mimics key aspects of the flight design enlarged (right). DrACO LDMS sample cup prototype used in the testing reported here is shown (bottom left) together with the mesh window through which the ultraviolet laser (typically 5 pulses with 20 μJ pulse energy) interrogates the sample. — NASA
Trainer emphasized the benefits of this heritage. Dragonfly’s scientists did not want to “reinvent the wheel” when it came to searching for organic compounds on Titan, and instead built on established methods which have been applied on Mars and elsewhere. “This design has given us an instrument that’s very flexible, that can adapt to the different types of surface samples,” says Trainer.
MS/MS fragmentation pattern of the diagnostic fragment peak of Chlorophyll a at m/z = 614 Da obtained on the DraMS breadboard system utilizing 2.9% CH4 in N2 gas mixture (top) and the commercial Thermo MALDI LTQ XLsystem employing Helium as the collision gas (bottom). NASA
DraMS and other science instruments on Dragonfly are being designed and built under the direction of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, which manages the mission for NASA and is designing and building the rotorcraft-lander. The team includes key partners at Goddard, the French space agency (CNES, Paris, France), which is providing the Gas Chromatograph Module for DraMS that will provide an additional separation after leaving the oven, Lockheed Martin Space, Littleton, Colorado, NASA Ames Research Center at Moffett Federal Airfield in California’s Silicon Valley, NASA Langley Research Center, Hampton, Virginia, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, Penn State University, State College, Pennsylvania, Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego, California, Honeybee Robotics, Brooklyn, New York, the German Aerospace Center (DLR), Cologne, Germany, and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), Tokyo, Japan.
Dragonfly is the fourth mission in NASA’s New Frontiers program. New Frontiers is managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate Washington.
Laser Desorption Mass Spectrometry at Saturn’s moon Titan, International Journal of Mass Spectrometry (open access)
Dragonfly Mass Spectrometer Investigation at Titan. COSPAR 2022 Abstract (open access)
Development of the Dragonfly Mass Spectrometer (DraMS) for Titan , LPSC 2021 Abstract (open access)
Selection and Analytical Performances of the Dragonfly Mass Spectrometer Gas Chromatographic Columns to Support the Search for Organic Molecules of Astrobiological Interest on Titan, Astrobiology (paywall)
Joint NASA, CNES Water-Tracking Satellite Reveals First Stunning Views – Space Ref
The Surface Water and Ocean Topography mission offers the first taste of the detailed perspectives of Earth’s surface water that its cutting-edge instruments will be able to capture.
The international Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) mission – led by NASA and the French space agency Centre National d’Études Spatiales (CNES) – has sent back some of its first glimpses of water on the planet’s surface, showing ocean currents like the Gulf Stream in unprecedented detail. SWOT is also capturing views of freshwater features such as lakes, rivers, and other water bodies down to about 300 feet (100 meters) wide.
The satellite will measure the elevation of nearly all the water on Earth’s surface and provide one of the most comprehensive surveys yet of our planet’s surface water. SWOT’s measurements of freshwater bodies and the ocean will provide insights into how the ocean influences climate change and the water cycle; how a warming world affects water storage in lakes, rivers, and reservoirs; and how communities can better manage their water resources and prepare for floods and other disasters.
“SWOT’s advanced imagery will empower researchers and advance the way we manage fresh water and the effects of sea level rise across the globe,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “Water is one of our planet’s most important resources – and it’s proven to be vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. SWOT will provide critical information that communities can use to prepare for the impacts of a warming climate.”
A Whole New View
As seen in these early images, on Jan. 21, 2023, SWOT measured sea level in a part of the Gulf Stream off the coast of North Carolina and Virginia. The two antennas of SWOT’s Ka-band Radar Interferometer (KaRIn) instrument acquired data that was mapped as a pair of wide, colored strips spanning a total of 75 miles (120 kilometers) across. Red and orange areas in the images represent sea levels that are higher than the global average, while the shades of blue represent sea levels that are lower than average.
For comparison, the new data is shown alongside sea surface height data taken by space-based instruments called altimeters. The instruments – widely used to measure sea level – also bounce radar signals off of Earth’s surface to collect their measurements. But traditional altimeters are able to look only at a narrow beam of Earth directly beneath them, unlike KaRIn’s two wide-swath strips that observe sea level as a two-dimensional map.
The spatial resolution of SWOT ocean measurements is 10 times greater than the composite of sea surface height data gathered over the same area by seven other satellites: Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich, Jason-3, Sentinel-3A and 3B, Cryosat-2, Altika, and Hai Yang 2B. The composite image was created using information from the Copernicus Marine Service of ESA (European Space Agency) and shows the same day as the SWOT data.
KaRIn also measured the elevation of water features on Long Island – shown as bright pink splotches nestled within the landscape. (Purple, yellow, green, and blue shades represent different land elevations.)
“Our ability to measure freshwater resources on a global scale through satellite data is of prime importance as we seek to adjust to a changing climate,” said CNES Chairman and CEO Philippe Baptiste. “In this respect, the first views from SWOT give us a clearer picture than ever before. These data will prove highly valuable for the international scientific community in the fields of hydrology, oceanography, and coastal studies.”
This initial inland image is a tantalizing indication of how SWOT can measure details of smaller lakes, ponds, and rivers in ways that satellites could not before. Such data will be used to produce an extraordinary accounting of the freshwater on Earth’s surface in ways useful to researchers, policymakers, and water resource managers.
“The KaRIn instrument took years to develop and build, and it will collect information on bodies of water across the globe – data that will be freely and openly available to everybody who needs it,” said Parag Vaze, SWOT project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.
More About the Mission
Launched on Dec. 16, 2022, from Vandenberg Space Force Base in central California, SWOT is now in a period of commissioning, calibration, and validation. Engineers are checking out the performance of the satellite’s systems and science instruments before the planned start of science operations in summer 2023.
The data for these first images was collected by SWOT’s KaRIn instrument, the scientific heart of the satellite. KaRIn has one antenna at each end of a boom that’s 33 feet (10 meters) long. This enables the instrument to look off to either side of a center line directly below the satellite as it bounces microwave signals off Earth’s surface. The returning radar signals arrive at each antenna slightly out of sync, or phase, from one another. When these signals are combined with other information about the antennas and the satellite’s altitude, scientists will be able to map the height of water on Earth’s surface with never-before-seen clarity. KaRIn encountered an issue earlier this year with one of its subsystems; engineers have now resolved the situation, and the instrument is up and running.
SWOT was jointly developed by NASA and CNES, with contributions from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and the UK Space Agency. JPL, which is managed for NASA by Caltech in Pasadena, California, leads the U.S. component of the project. For the flight system payload, NASA provided the KaRIn instrument, a GPS science receiver, a laser retroreflector, a two-beam microwave radiometer, and NASA instrument operations. CNES provided the Doppler Orbitography and Radioposition Integrated by Satellite (DORIS) system, the dual frequency Poseidon altimeter (developed by Thales Alenia Space), the KaRIn radio-frequency subsystem (together with Thales Alenia Space and with support from the UK Space Agency), the satellite platform, and ground operations. CSA provided the KaRIn high-power transmitter assembly. NASA provided the launch vehicle and the agency’s Launch Services Program, based at Kennedy Space Center, managed the associated launch services.
To learn more about SWOT, visit: https://swot.jpl.nasa.gov/
Severe solar storm hits Earth, strongest in past 6 years – Indiatimes.com
The Earth witnessed a powerful solar storm in nearly six years, causing auroras all over the US, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said. NOAA had earlier announced moderate G2 storm and G3 conditions between March 23 and 25, but updated it to G4. A severe G4 storm can affect the power grid system with possible widespread voltage control problems; and spacecraft operations with increased possibility of surface charging, and atmospheric drag risk on Low Earth Orbiting (LEO) satellites.
Parade of five planets on display in B.C. skies Tuesday evening
Five of the sun’s eight major planets will be lined up on the western horizon this Tuesday just after sunset.
The astronomical delight will comprise Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Uranus — all in a visible line from the horizon to the crescent moon.
NASA astronomer Bill Cooke says the best way to get a glimpse is to stand somewhere with a clear view of the western horizon.
The planets will stretch from the horizon to halfway up the night sky.
Mercury and Jupiter (the first and fifth planets from the sun) will dip below the horizon around 30 minutes after sunset, that is 7:37 p.m. on Tuesday.
The five-planet spread can be seen anywhere on Earth.
Venus, Mars and Jupiter will be the brightest, particularly Venus, and Mars will be closest to the moon. Mercury and Uranus will be the dimmest, so a set of binoculars will be useful.
Uranus is the rarest seen of the planetary lineup.
20th century Japanese poster art – in pictures | Art and design – The Guardian
Putin and his allies love buying art. To help us win the war in Ukraine, we should confiscate it – The Guardian
Judge Ron DeSantis By His Actions – The Atlantic
Silver investment demand jumped 12% in 2019
Iran anticipates renewed protests amid social media shutdown
Search for life on Mars accelerates as new bodies of water found below planet’s surface
Investment17 hours ago
First Republic Bank Stock: Why I Am Sticking To My Investment (NYSE:FRC)
Investment18 hours ago
The A.I. boom could also give a boost to these investing trends. How to play it
News24 hours ago
Biden visit: Trump calls Canada-U.S. deals ‘horrible’
Business16 hours ago
Thousands without power after Ontario windstorm
Sports23 hours ago
Despite 17 birdies, Rory McIlroy needs two trips to ‘friendly’ No. 18
News20 hours ago
Canada is set for its largest alcohol tax increase yet. Here’s what to know
Health19 hours ago
HPHA to close COVID, cold and flu clinics
Media17 hours ago
Utah is first US state to limit teen social media access