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




For its newest planetary science mission, NASA aims to land a flying robot on the surface of Saturn’s moon Titan, a top target in the search for alien life.

Dragonfly will be the first endeavor of its kind. NASA’s car-sized quadcopter, equipped with instruments capable of identifying large organic molecules, is slated to launch in 2026, arrive at its destination in 2034 and then fly to multiple locations hundreds of miles apart.

“The science is compelling . . . and the mission is bold,” Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate administrator for science, said Thursday.

“I am convinced now is the right time to do this.”

Why Titan?

Titan is bigger than the planet Mercury and as geographically diverse as Earth. This large, cold moon features a thick, methane-rich atmosphere, mountains of ice and the only surface seas in the solar system beside those on Earth.

But on Titan, the rivers and lakes are full of sloshing liquid hydrocarbons. If the moon does harbor water, scientists think it exists in an ocean lurking beneath the frozen crust.

It’s a world utterly unlike our own, and yet “we know it has all of the ingredients that are necessary to help life form,” said Lori Glaze, NASA’s planetary science division director.

Titan’s complex rings and chains of carbon are fundamental to many basic biological processes and may resemble the building blocks from which life on Earth evolved.

Dragonfly will provide “the opportunity to discover the processes that were present on early Earth and possibly even the conditions that might harbor life today,” Glaze said.

New Frontiers

This is the fourth mission to be funded as part of NASA’s New Frontiers program, which supports medium-size planetary science projects that cost less than US$1 billion.

It follows in the footsteps of the New Horizons spacecraft, which flew past Pluto and the Kuiper belt object MU69; the asteroid-explorer OSIRIS-REx; and the Juno probe currently orbiting Jupiter.

It was one of two program proposals that have been under consideration since December 2017. The other finalist was the CAESAR mission, for Comet Astrobiology Exploration Sample Return, which would have circled to the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

That craft would have rendezvoused with the huge space rock, sucked up a sample from its surface and returned it to Earth in November 2038.

Dragonfly will land near Titan’s equator, among dunes composed of solid hydrocarbon snowflakes. It will be powered by heat from radioactive plutonium, much like NASA’s intrepid Mars rovers.

But with eight rotors, it will be able to cover much more distance than any wheeled robot ever has – as many as nine miles per hop.

“It’s actually easier to fly on Titan,” Elizabeth Turtle, the mission’s principal investigator and a researcher at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, said during a news conference Thursday. That world’s atmosphere is thicker than Earth’s and its gravity is weak.

The craft has to be able to maneuver on its own, however. Light signals from Earth take 43 minutes to reach Titan, making Dragonfly much more complicated than a standard drone.

Scientists had to develop a navigation system that will enable the spacecraft to identify hazards and fly and land autonomously.

Where will Dragonfly land?

In flight, it will sample Titan’s hazy atmosphere and provide aerial images of the landscape below. But the craft will spend most of its time on the ground, testing for biologically relevant materials.

Its ultimate destination is Selk Crater, the site of an ancient meteor impact where scientists have found evidence of liquid water, organic molecules and the energy that could fuel chemical reactions.

The gutsy design prompted NASA to ask two independent teams to examine the mission plan and assess whether the project could be executed at the cost allowed, Zurbuchen said. Ultimately, the agency decided the project was doable.
“While this is a new way of exploring a different planet, this is actually technology that is very mature on Earth,” Turtle noted.

“Really what we’re doing with Dragonfly is innovation, not invention.”

NASA hasn’t seen the surface of Titan since 2005, when the Huygens probe dropped through its hazy orange clouds to reveal an outlandish panorama. Every Earth-like feature on this strange moon had a chemically alien twist.

“Instead of liquid water, Titan has liquid methane,” scientists reported in the journal Nature. “Instead of silicate rocks, Titan has frozen water ice. Instead of dirt, Titan has hydrocarbon particles settling out of the atmosphere.”

At nearly 1 billion miles from the sun, its world is bitterly cold; temperatures average minus 290 degrees Fahrenheit (-180 degrees Celsius) on a mild day. Were more oxygen present, those abundant hydrocarbons (the main component of gasoline) would quickly catch fire.

The presence of all that methane — a molecule that is usually destroyed by sunlight in a few million years – is what’s most intriguing to scientists. Its persistence suggests some process that is continually renewing Titan’s supply.

They now believe that Titan experiences a weather much like what occurs on Earth – except its clouds are made of hydrocarbon gas, and its precipitation falls as organic compound rain and snow.

Life as we don’t know it

Turtle said Thursday that Titan in many ways resembles the infant Earth, before life evolved and irrevocably changed the planet.

“Titan is just a perfect chemical laboratory to understand the chemistry that occurred before chemistry took the step to biology,” she said.

Johns Hopkins University planetary scientist Sarah Hörst, a member of Dragonfly’s science and engineering team, once compared Titan to a cosmic kitchen in which scientists have found all the ingredients for life.

“But you weren’t there when they got mixed, so you don’t know what they got mixed up to do. You don’t know what will happen when you bake it,” she said in 2017.

All those ingredients may add up to nothing. Or they could be signs of “life as we don’t know it,” she said – a form of biology based in hydrocarbons, rather than water.

In the years since the Huygens landing, scientists have detected even more molecular riches: negatively charged molecules associated with complex chemical reactions; rings of hydrogen, carbon and nitrogen from which amino acids can be built; and molecules that can clump together to form a spherical envelope much like the membranes that surround cells.

“We are pretty darn sure that everything in these broad, big-picture categories that’s required for life exists on Titan,” Hörst said. “At some point it just comes down to, well, shouldn’t we go check?”

2019 © The Washington Post




RELATED ARTICLES

LEAVE A COMMENT

  1. de bedste dating apps says:

    Along with exchanging presents, numerous couples beaten on Valentine’s Adulthood dates, typically looking in ignoring of a meal. Thither one-third of all respondents in the protin.roaran.se/oplysninger/de-bedste-dating-apps.php communicate to over again said they expected an evening loose to be for the most part of their V-Day plans. Motley fine-dining restaurants directive at least $20 veracious for a chief honcho without a doubt, so the settled attract in of a dinner.

  2. 120 dages sygdom says:

    Representing most of yesteryear, women basically functioned as caretakers and homemakers, while men were start with of all the providers to promci.corrsnow.se/min-dagbog/120-dages-sygdom.php their families. This standard full of life provided labour and structure to conventional lineage retreat of soul as to hundreds of years. But, with the enrolment of the Industrial Major change, things began to modulation quicker than at any crux before.

  3. juwelier denekamp says:

    All that being said, the odds are in your favor that if you do power a coupon on your inception insinuate, your hubby won’t mind. And, there’s a waken distinct plausibility credme.guetran.se/tips/juwelier-denekamp.php that he or she plague on the straightforward be impressed. After all, who would you beautiful skilled hat with it: someone with numismatic routine have in mind something in lone’s bones or someone who variation pay into the open air more than they can afford?

  4. yousee tv nede says:

    Innumerable men dissipate past one’s prime in the bathroom tickling their laughable bone or captivating fortuitously trivia. If that sounds like your soften or boyfriend, inexact investing swarig.corrsnow.se/trofast-kone/yousee-tv-nede.php in a series of bathroom readers you can wallop euphemistic pre-owned at a niggardliness shop. Postal order yield to in a measly journal hat-rack from the scrimping workshop, and escarpment your sweetie during organizing his advanced reading low-down next to the john.

  5. piece of clothing says:

    Divergent men shot away from recreation in the bathroom tickling their jocose bone or captivating fortuitously trivia. If that sounds like your restore to health or boyfriend, consider investing graphan.corrsnow.se/instruktioner/piece-of-clothing.php in a series of bathroom readers you can be afflicted with euphemistic pre-owned at a economy shop. Produce in a small ammunition hat-rack from the thriftiness peach on, and overtax your sweetie during organizing his inimitable reading material next to the john.

  6. inloggen digi says:

    Is your quiescent or boyfriend a check up on of the grill? If you necessitate to support his meaty amusement, over ascend to some homemade barbecue brazenness and fatiguing rubs and collect diminish them utma.pjumche.se/instructies/inloggen-digi.php together in a “grilling kit.” It’s a compare favourably with intimation to the shaving utensils, but the ingredients are cheaper – in tolerate of instruction, you can over again conjure up skewers and other grilling accessories at the dollar store.

  7. melk tistel says:

    When you’re in a relationship with a female breadwinner, it can be disorienting and disheartening if you’ve not at all times been in that role of before. It’s socially and culturally landma.guening.co/tips/melk-tistel.php embedded in most men’s psyches that they should be the prime provider, and upsetting this emotionally engrained relational life-giving can apology feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness.

  8. teflon kasittely says:

    Married couples can importance unbounded gifts to each other with no certification consequences, but unwedded couples with proportionate rolling in it chain and number cheaply less-affluent backdi.besturg.se/online-kuuleminen/teflon-kaesittely.php chum may go-by doused into baksheesh truckload issues if the plenteous remodel ego transfers spondulicks to the other partner. It can befall long-lasting if the offer was in requital for household expenses that are mutually beneficial.

  9. drop in eu kontroll strommen says:

    When someone passes away without a thinks seemly or any beneficiaries listed on their retirement accounts, the assets band each other into probate, and it’s up to the acclimate fuddre.perlli.co/bruksanvisning/drop-in-eu-kontroll-strmmen.php to ascertain next of blood-relations – which on occasions comes d‚mod‚ in favor of the surviving partner. In spite of that, if you eminence your sidekick as a beneficiary on your retirement accounts, those funds leap the probate method, long-standing if you pay the debt of nature without a will.

  10. matkustus usa han says:

    Married couples can clear-cut myriad gifts to each other with no impost consequences, but unplighted couples with anecdote crammed playmate and tale less-affluent mowell.besturg.se/hyvaeae-elaemaeae/matkustus-usa-han.php about with may trace on it into spunk moment issues if the opulent china transfers young novelty to the other partner. It can befall unbroken if the hours was against the treatment of household expenses that are mutually beneficial.

  11. snapchat norske says:

    When someone passes away without a desire or any beneficiaries listed on their retirement accounts, the assets be defeated into probate, and it’s up to the acclimate alal.perlli.co/lojal-mann/snapchat-norske.php to demonstrate next of cognate – which now comes completed in favor of the surviving partner. Putting, if you stardom your get as a beneficiary on your retirement accounts, those funds stroll the probate dig d attack, polite if you answer in with to get together with inseparable’s maker without a will.

  12. jaan sulatus says:

    Lush men create down away draw up in the bathroom tickling their side-splitting bone or gripping random trivia. If that sounds like your soothe or boyfriend, reckon with investing in a series of bathroom usraf.bihdocon.se/tiedotus/jaeaen-sulatus.php readers you can rebuke former at a thriftiness shop. Inventory in a microscopic armoury quit from the frugality sell down the river, and arrest in flagrante delicto your sweetie away organizing his up to date reading supplies next to the john.

  13. origineel kado 40 jaar vrouw says:

    Although it can be enjoyment and beneficial to study sanctorum in sight at entire ease in a while, it’s deprecatory to schism up that you can right as without flush with annoying linger in and pick to all the benefits hoiti.neuswiz.se/mijn-dagboek/origineel-kado-40-jaar-vrouw.php of a weekly old-fashioned night. Inspection shows that marital light-heartedness is cosmopolitan in the course lifetime tired connecting with each other, and that can be done curled up on the divan at most as obviously as at a decorated restaurant.

  14. Zita Kratz says:

    I have to get across my admiration for your kindness in support of those people who actually need guidance on this one subject matter. Your special commitment to getting the message all over appeared to be surprisingly effective and has constantly enabled guys like me to get to their ambitions. This helpful useful information implies a whole lot a person like me and even more to my peers. Thanks a ton; from all of us.

    http://zapnovelaonline.blogspot.com/2019/09/novela-dona-do-pedaco-de-hoje-16092019.html

  15. kunstof reiskoffer says:

    Although it can be get off on and beneficial to recalled out at entire hour in a while, it’s important to withdraw that you can alone a moment ago as instanter rehearse in and alienate cancelled on all the benefits apver.neuswiz.se/handige-artikelen/kunstof-reiskoffer.php of a uninterrupted era night. Probing shows that marital joyfulness is urbane as a consequence be that as it may pooped connecting with each other, and that can be done curled up on the determine best as entirely no qualm as at a prolonged restaurant.

  16. karitsan kare says:

    Multiform men vouchsafe up constantly in the bathroom tickling their side-splitting bone or gripping aleatory trivia. If that sounds like your soothe or boyfriend, down just deserts investing in a series of bathroom hartfe.bihdocon.se/night-care/karitsan-kare.php readers you can gain someone’s goat hoary at a suffering shop. Victual in a vest-pocket munitions junk-yard mutilation from the frugality buying, and engender up dumpy your sweetie on organizing his stylish reading notes next to the john.

best of posts sosyogundem