Saturn’s Moon Titan Could Have The Right Chemistry To Support Life

Posted: Jul 11 2016, 11:38am CDT | by , Updated: Jul 13 2016, 7:18pm CDT, in News | Latest Science News


Saturn’s Moon Titan Could Have the Right Chemistry to Support Life
Credit: Cornell University

Observations by NASA's Cassini and Huygens missions indicate that Titan could act as a possible catalyst for life.

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft that has been investigating Saturn since 2004 has revealed some more tantalizing facts about the giant planet and its moon Saturn. According to these latest findings, Titan could have all the ingredients necessary for extraterrestrial life.

Titan, the second largest moon of Saturn, is also the only moon in our solar system with an Earth-like atmosphere. The moon is surrounded by clouds and promises to host life on its surface. But despite having natural processes similar to those on Earth, the end product is different from our planet.

Titan is filled with lakes, rivers and seas but all of them contain liquid methane and ethane instead of familiar water. The atmosphere of Titan is unbreathable due to the abundance of nitrogen and methane. But still researchers believe it may have right chemicals or what we call prebiotic conditions to build and support life. The presence of hydrogen cyanide that forms when sunlight hits the toxic atmosphere may hold a key to habitable condition on the icy surface of Titan.

“The paper is a starting point, as we are looking for prebiotic in conditions other than Earth’s,” said lead author Martin Rahm from Cornell University.

“We are used to our conditions here on Earth. Our scientific experience is at room temperature and ambient conditions. Titan is a completely different beast.”

Researchers suggest that hydrogen cyanide is a reactive compound. It can react with itself or with other molecules and form long chains or polymers, including one called polyimine. And this polymer could possibly lead to an atmosphere suitable for life. 

“Polyimine can exist as different structures, and they may be able to accomplish remarkable things at low temperatures, especially under Titan’s conditions,” said Rahm.

“If future observations could show there is prebiotic chemistry in a place like Titan, it would be a major breakthrough. This paper is indicating that prerequisites for processes leading to a different kind of life could exist on Titan, but this only the first step.”

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.




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