It’s Official: NASA’s Sending a Mission to Titan, a Top Candidate For Alien Life


A flying robot will be dropped on Titan, Saturn's moon, a top target in the search for extraterrestrial life, by NASA's newest planetary science mission.

It will be the first project of its kind, the Dragonfly one. The car-sized quadcopter from NASA is scheduled to take off in 2026, land in 2034, and then fly to several locations hundreds of miles apart. It will be equipped with devices that can recognise large chemical substances.

The mission is bold, and the research is compelling, according to Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for science at NASA. "I'm sure that now is the time to make this happen."

What importance does Titan have?

Titan is bigger than Mercury and shares Earth's geographic variety. The only surface oceans in the solar system other than those found on Earth are found on this large, frigid moon, which also contains ice mountains and a dense, methane-rich atmosphere.

On Titan, however, liquid hydrocarbons are whirling freely in the rivers and lakes. If there is water on the moon, it is thought to be in an ocean under the frozen surface. Although it is a world distinct from ours, Lori Glaze, head of NASA's planetary research division, noted that "we know it has all of the components that are necessary to let life form."

The intricate carbon rings and chains on Titan are crucial to many fundamental biological processes and may resemble the precursors of life on Earth. According to Glaze, Dragonfly will provide people "the chance to learn about the mechanisms that existed on early Earth and perhaps even the circumstances that might support life today.

New Horizons

The NASA New Frontiers programme, which provides funding for medium-sized planetary scientific initiatives that don't exceed $1 billion USD, has now funded its fourth mission.

It follows in the footsteps of the asteroid-explorer OSIRIS-REx, the Juno probe, which is presently orbiting Jupiter, and the New Horizons spacecraft, which recently passed by Pluto and the Kuiper belt object MU69. It was one of the two programme suggestions being thought about since December 2017. The Comet Astrobiology Exploration Sample Return (CAESAR) mission, which would have circled Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, was the other finalist.

In November 2038, that spacecraft would have collided with the enormous space rock, sucked up a sample from its surface, and returned it to Earth. Dragonfly will crash land among solid hydrocarbon snowflakes close to Titan's equator. It will be driven by the radioactive plutonium's heat, much like NASA's daring Mars rovers.

With eight rotors, it will be able to go up to nine miles per hop, which is significantly farther than any wheeled robot has ever been able go.

At a news conference on Thursday, Elizabeth Turtle, the mission's principal investigator and a researcher at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, claimed that flying on Titan was actually simpler. That planet has a thicker atmosphere than Earth, but its gravity is weak. The ship must, however, be able to manoeuvre on its own. Given that it takes 43 minutes for light signals from Earth to reach Titan, Dragonfly is far more complicated than a typical drone.

It was necessary for scientists to develop a navigation system that would enable the spacecraft to recognise hazards and fly and land on its own.

Somewhere, a dragonfly will land.

While in flight, it will send overhead pictures of the area below and sample Titan's murky atmosphere. However, the ship will spend the most of its time on the ground, looking for components that are biologically significant. Its final stop is Selk Crater, the location of a historic meteor strike where researchers found evidence of liquid water, organic compounds, and energy capable of causing chemical reactions.

According to Zurbuchen, NASA tasked two separate teams with analysing the project's design and determining whether it could be finished within the budget allotted. The agency ultimately came to the conclusion that the concept was workable.Although this is a novel kind of planet exploration, Turtle pointed out that this technology is already extremely advanced on Earth. It's innovation, not invention, that we're really doing with Dragonfly, not invention

Since 2005, when the Huygens probe peaked through Titan's murky orange clouds to show an incredible picture, NASA hasn't been able to glimpse the surface of the moon. On this odd moon, each Earth-like feature has a distinctly chemically foreign twist.Titan possesses liquid methane instead of liquid water, according to research published in the journal Nature. Titan contains frozen water ice instead of silicate rocks. Titan contains hydrocarbon settling out of the atmosphere in place of dirt.

The average temperature on its globe, which is roughly 1 billion miles from the sun, is minus 290 degrees Fahrenheit (-180 degrees Celsius) on a good day. Those numerous hydrocarbons, which make up the majority of gasoline, would easily catch fire if there was sufficient oxygen present.

Scientists are especially curious about the presence of that that methane, a gas that is typically destroyed by sunlight after a few million years. Its persistence demonstrates that a process is continuously renewing Titan's resources.

They now believe that Titan has weather that is comparable to Earth's, with the exception that hydrocarbon gas makes up its clouds and that organic compound rain and snow make up its precipitation.

Life as we know it today

On Thursday, Turtle claimed that Titan is comparable to the early Earth, before life developed and irreparably harmed the planet.

Titan is just an excellent scientific laboratory for comprehending the chemistry that took place prior to the progression of chemistry to life, she said.

Titan has been compared to a cosmic kitchen where researchers have found all of the ingredients for life, according to Sarah Hörst, a planetary scientist at Johns Hopkins University and a member of Dragonfly's scientific and engineering team.

You weren't present when they became confused, thus you are in the dark as to why they did. In 2017, she said, "You never know what happens when you bake it."

All of those components can be useless. She also suggested that these might be signs of "life as we don't know it," a form of living that relies on hydrocarbons rather than water.

In the years following Huygens' landing, scientists have found even more molecular treasures, including negatively charged molecules linked to intricate chemical reactions, rings of hydrogen, carbon, and nitrogen from which amino acids can be constructed, and molecules that can group together to form a spherical envelope resembling the membranes that enclose cells.

Titan, according to Hörst, "has everything in these broad, big-picture aspects that life requires." It eventually just comes down to: Should we go check?

Post a Comment