A view of Titan as seen by NASA's Cassini spacecraft. Photo: Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

NASA is going to Saturn's largest moon, Titan. The space agency has selected the Dragonfly mission to learn more about the mysterious world from close range.

Why it matters: Studying Titan for an extended period of time from the world's surface will reveal aspects of the moon that we've only gotten a tantalizing glimpse of in the past. Scientists think that Titan could help unlock the mysteries of how life evolved.

Dragonfly is a drone designed to fly above Titan's surface, dropping down to investigate parts of the moon including its dunes and craters.

  • NASA is planning to launch the spacecraft in 2026, with an arrival at Titan in 2034.
“The instruments on board will help us investigate organic chemistry, evaluate habitability and search for chemical signatures of past or even present life,”
— NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said during the announcement

The big picture: Titan is alien in the most compelling sense. The moon has a thick atmosphere and bodies of liquid ethane and methane on its surface.

The backdrop: This won't be humanity's first visit to Titan. The Huygens lander also touched down on the moon's surface, giving scientists on Earth a brief look.

  • Huygens studied Titan's atmosphere during its descent to the surface, but the lander only survived for a little over an hour after touchdown, beaming home photos after landing.
  • Dragonfly is part of the agency's New Frontiers program that was also responsible for the New Horizon's mission to Pluto, Juno's mission to Jupiter and the OSIRIS-REx mission to an asteroid.

Go deeper

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Politics: Chris Christie: Wear a mask "or you may regret it — as I did" — Senate Democrats block vote on McConnell's targeted relief bill.
  2. Business: New state unemployment filings fall.
  3. Economy: Why the stimulus delay isn't a crisis (yet).
  4. Health: FDA approves Gilead's remdesivir as a coronavirus treatment How the pandemic might endMany U.S. deaths were avoidable.
  5. Education: Boston and Chicago send students back home for online learning.
  6. World: Spain and France exceed 1 million cases.

Early voting eclipses 2016 total with 12 days until election

People stand in line to vote early in Fairfax, Virginia in September. Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

Americans have cast more than 47.1 million ballots in the 2020 presidential election, surpassing the total early-vote count for 2016 with 12 days left until Election Day, according to a Washington Post analysis of voting data.

Why it matters: The election is already underway, as many states have expanded early and mail-in voting options because of the coronavirus pandemic.

What to expect from the final debate of the 2020 election

Trump and Biden at the first debate. Morry Gash-Pool/Getty Image

Watch for President Trump to address Joe Biden as “the big guy” or “the chairman” at tonight's debate as a way of dramatizing the Hunter Biden emails. Hunter's former business partner Tony Bobulinski is expected to be a Trump debate guest.

The big picture: Trump's advisers universally view the first debate as a catastrophe — evidenced by a sharp plunge in Trump’s public and (more convincingly for them) private polling immediately following the debate.