Where to search for signs of life on Titan

phys.org | 7/20/2018 | Staff
maye (Posted by) Level 3
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Looking down at Titan with Cassini. Some of the large lakes filled with methane and ethane are visible through the haze. Credit: NASA/JPL–Caltech/SSI.

New findings, published in the journal Astrobiology, suggest that large craters are the prime locations in which to find the building blocks of life on Saturn's largest moon, Titan.

Titan - Icy - Expanse - Molecules - Methane

Titan is an icy expanse covered by organic molecules, with liquid methane lakes enshrouded by a thick, hazy atmosphere of nitrogen and methane that begs the question: why isn't there life on this strangely Earth-like world? Perhaps it is the balmy –179 degrees Celsius (-300 degrees Fahrenheit) temperatureon the surface that would likely prevent any biochemical reactions from taking place. But is there any place on Titan where there might be hope that biomolecules, such as amino acids, could form? One team wanted to find out.

Using imagery and data from the Cassini spacecraft and Huygens probe, scientists led by Dr. Catherine Neish, a planetary scientist specializing in impact cratering at the University of Western Ontario, went on a hunt for the best places to look for biological molecules on the surface of Titan. Life, as we know it, is carbon-based and uses liquid water as a solvent. The surface of Titan has abundant carbon-rich molecules (hydrocarbons) that have been shown to form amino acids, the building blocks of proteins needed for life, when exposed to liquid water in laboratory simulations.

Herein - Problem - Titan - Water - Surface

Herein lies the problem: Titan is much too cold for liquid water to be present on the surface. Although this is not a favorable scenario for life-bearing molecules to form, there is hope.

Radar measurements from Cassini, which orbited Saturn for 13 years, were able to peer through Titan's optically thick atmosphere, revealing the terrain of this enigmatic world. What was revealed was unexpected – Titan is active. Cassini's radar instrument unveiled...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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