Before finishing in 2017, the Cassini mission flew by Titan while studying Saturn. The data from the Hyugens probe, which was part of the Cassini mission, suggested that Titan was the perfect candidate for further investigation.
"It's the first drone landing and it can fly over 100 miles through Titan's thick atmosphere," NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement. "The Titan is most comparable to the early earth. Dragonfly's instruments help to evaluate organic chemistry and the chemical signatures of past or present life. We will launch Dragonfly to explore the boundaries of human knowledge for the benefit of all humanity."
The new Frontiers program has also included the Juno mission to Jupiter, the new horizons probe who visited Pluto in 201
The ultimate goal is for Dragonfly to visit a battle crater where they believe that important ingredients for life mixed together when something hit Titan earlier, possibly tens of thousands of years ago.
It is a Mars rover-sized drone that reaches about ten meters long.
Titan is chemically similar to the ground before life evolved, the agency said. They want to explore sand dunes on Titan to determine if they are made from the same complex organic material discovered in the atmosphere.
"It is the science that motivates us to do this exciting and difficult mission," said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA's associated science administrator at the agency's headquarters in Washington.
"Titan has the most important ingredients for life," said Lori Glaze, director of NASA's planetary science department. "It has complex organic molecules and the energy required for life. We get the opportunity to observe processes similar to what happened on early Earth, as life formed and potentially relationships that could carry life today." We can look for biosignatures. "
When Dragonfly lands, it will spend two and a half years flying around Titan, with only propellers, with skid to land, but no wheels to roam the surface.
It will start in 2026 but will not reach Titan until 2034, because Saturn is so far from us. ]
Titan is not even known to be hospitable.
Titan is larger than both our own moon and the planet Mercury, and is unique in our solar system. It is the only moon with clouds and a dense atmosphere of nitrogen and methane, which gives it a fuzzy orange appearance.
Its atmospheric pressure is 60% larger than that of the Earth, which means that it exerts the pressure you feel at the bottom of a swimming pool, according to NASA. minus 290 degrees Fahrenheit
So it would make sense that the potential for life on Titan should look slightly different from our planet. But Titan's atmosphere cannot be very different from the primordial earth – and life found a way here.
Vinyl cyanide is a complex organic molecule capable of forming cell membrane-like spheres. Although it may sound toxic, this chemical will be at Titan's home, where significant amounts of data from the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA), a group of radio telescopes in Chile, have been recorded.
Titanium also has soil-like liquid forms on the surface, but rivers, lakes and gardens are made of liquid ethane and methane, which form clouds and cause liquid gas to rain from the sky.
The surface temperature is so cold that the rivers and lakes were cut out of methane, the way rocks and lava contributed to forming functions and channels on the ground.
These methane powders on the surface are the kind of environment that can help vinyl cyanide molecules together to form cell-like membranes, not odd bases for organisms on earth.
"The presence of vinyl cyanide in a liquid methane environment suggests the exciting possibility of chemical processes analogous to those important to life on Earth," said Maureen Palmer, leading study author and researcher at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.
"Scientists have finally discovered the molecule, vinyl cyanide. It is our best candidate for a protocell that can be stable and flexible in liquid methane," says Jonathan Lunine, a Cornell professor who attended the 2015 study. "This is a step forward in understanding whether Titan's methane sea can host an exotic way of life."
But how does Titan compare? First of all, it is bigger than Europe and Enceladus. It is also quite unique in its possession of a dense atmosphere that has hidden the observations that scientists have attempted to make of Titan. And Titan has not confirmed active geysers on its surface like the other moons.
Because of its complex chemistry, it is safe to say that Titan is not hospitable to humans. But it is attractive for researchers.
"Saturn's moon, Enceladus, is the place to seek life like us, life depends on – and exists in – liquid water," Lunine said. "The Titan, on the other hand, is the place to seek the outer limits of life – can an exotic lifestyle begin and evolve into a truly foreign environment, namely liquid methane?"