NASA is planning to study the existence of alien life on the oceans present in Saturn’s largest moon, the Titan. The US space agency’s Astrobiology Institute-funded project, which is led by researchers from the Jet Propulsion Lab, is trying to find out if life can exist on Titan despite having a thick atmosphere.
The researchers aim to find if there are any existing complex hydrocarbons on the surface of Titan due to the presence of gases which include hydrogen, methane, and nitrogen found in its atmosphere.
The latest development comes after NASA announced late last month that it will be sending a small spacecraft to the Titan. The agency plans to launch the spacecraft in 2026. The particular spacecraft would be carrying a small helicopter drone for the exploration of Titan’s surface. The helicopter drone is expected to cover 180 kilometers over a period of two years.
However, a lot of data and information can still be interpreted from NASA’s previous space mission Cassini-Huygens, which began sending its findings nearly 15 years ago. It is because of Cassini-Huygens, that we discovered that Titan has large oceans on its surface.
“What we don’t know is the exact composition of the ocean, its density, its thermal profile, the overall structure of the icy crust on top of it,” Mike Malaska, Geochemist and Deputy Principal Investigator on the project at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab said to Astrobiology Magazine.
The space agency has built a 30-member team for the project of exploration of the Titan surface through the help of the data and information given by the Cassini-Huygens mission and Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA).
The Astrobiology Institute-funded project has four main objectives – understanding how molecules get transported from Titan’s surface to its oceans, finding out if complex organics can able to survive in Titan’s oceans, exploring how much chemical energy is available for metabolising and finding a way to detect molecular fossils which remain in oceans.
According to the current plans, the Dragonfly rotorcraft from NASA is expected to reach Titan’s surface 15 years from now and as per the Astrobiology Institute’s research project, scientists can get a better knowledge of what Dragonfly can expect.