It’s official, NASA will go on Titan to study its potential of livability as part of its Dragonfly mission. The drone should arrive on site in 2034, and visit several promising sites in order to study the chemical processes operated on the surface. The mission is exciting, but other research is also conducted in parallel. Southern Methodist University (SMU) chemists, for example, intend to “recreate” Titan’s environment in small glass cylinders, in order to better understand the type of organic structures that may form. On the surface of this moon.
Recreate this world, step by step
The university has just received a grant of $ 195,000 (175,000 euros) to carry out this research. Tom Runcevski and Christina McConville will lead the project. In several small glass cylinders, researchers will “inject” the ingredients found on the moon, based on the knowledge gained from the lander Huygens. “We can recreate this world step by step in a glass cylinder, say the researchers. We will first introduce freezing water. Then we will cover this layer of methane ice, which will turn into a “lake.” Then we will fill the remaining cylinder with nitrogen.
Researchers will then manipulate these environments in different ways in order to study the responses. The idea, for example, would be to introduce different molecules to mimic hydrocarbon precipitation on Titan.
Titan, a true primitive land
These analyses will be relevant to the issue of the appearance of life on Titan. But let’s not forget that the moon has long been considered a kind of pre-biotic land. Even though the temperatures are freezing (-180 degrees C.), Titan is indeed the only object in our system to present a dense atmosphere like our planet. It is also the only world to contain surface liquids – including lakes, rivers, and seas. In addition, researchers believe that Titan could have an ocean below its surface.
This research is, therefore, interesting for more than one reason. On the one hand, because we could help solve the mystery of earthly life. But also because the data collected will eventually guide future NASA analyzes once there. We could also learn more about the life potential of the closest exoplanets, once we have determined those with a thick atmosphere.