In a statement released on Thursday, NASA revealed its next target of exploration within our solar system to look for pre-biotic chemistry which might be implicated in the evolution of organic life. Destination – Titan!
Dubbed the Dragonfly, the mission is currently set to launch in 2026 and land a rotocraft on the surface of Saturn’s largest moon by 2034. The drone copter will then buzz around countless different locations and perform surveys in search of the building blocks of life-as-we-know-it.
Among the reasons for choosing Titan are its atmosphere, considered by scientists to be highly reminiscent of the early days on our own planet, and liquid rivers (flowing with methane and ethane instead of water) – the only ones in the solar system besides Earth.
“Visiting this mysterious ocean world could revolutionize what we know about life in the universe,” said NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine. “This cutting-edge mission would have been unthinkable even just a few years ago, but we’re now ready for Dragonfly’s amazing flight.”
Following touch down at the equatorial Shangri-La dune, the almost three year-baseline mission will consist of exploring locations where liquid water and complex organic materials once existed at the same time for possibly tens of thousands of years.
During its planned 8-kilometer ventures into the unknown, the drone will stop along compelling areas to collect samples necessary for investigating how far pre-biotic chemistry may have progressed, as well as to look for signs of past or extant life.
The mission, expected to cover approximately 175 km (nearly double the distance travelled to date by all the Mars rovers combined), will culminate in the Selk impact crater, though to have had liquid water, organic materials, and energy in the past – all requirements for organic life.
“It’s remarkable to think of this rotorcraft flying miles and miles across the organic sand dunes of Saturn’s largest moon, exploring the processes that shape this extraordinary environment. Dragonfly will visit a world filled with a wide variety of organic compounds, which are the building blocks of life and could teach us about the origin of life itself,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate administrator for Science at the agency’s Headquarters in Washington.