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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

Is There Life on Titan? perhaps

Is There Life on Titan? perhaps

Author: Hugh Bollinger/Thursday, July 7, 2016/Categories: natural history, space science, environment, adventure

                                       Different Wave-lenght Scans of Titan (credit: JPL)

Saturn's giant moon Titan, could offer the building blocks for life. Researchers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory describe the moon as "one of the most Earth-like worlds we have found to date". Unfortunately, at temperatures of -290F, an atmosphere of hydrocarbon smog, and water-ice frozen to the hardness of diamonds, Titan would be complete inhospitable to carbon-based life forms. Such conditions might not be so bad for life based on a different self-replicating chemisty, however.

New research reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) concludes that Titan could be a prime test case to:

"explore the environmental limits of prebiotic chemistry and ask the question of whether life can develop without water. Experimental and observational data suggests that hydrogen cyanide (HCN), the most abundant hydrogen-bonding molecule in Titan’s atmosphere, may polymerize on the surface to form polyimine, a polymer with interesting properties."

Using quantum mechanical calculations, researchers at Cornell University showed that polyimine has chemical and molecular properties that could potentially allow for prebiotic chemistry to develop under the extreme cold conditions as seen on Titan. The new studies determined polyimine to be a major component of polymerized hydrogen cyanide in laboratory experiments. With a flexible chemical "backbone", the polymer can exist in multiple forms. It also demonstrated a high degree of electrical bonding and molecular structural diversity necessary in a self-replicating molecule for the potential of microbial evolution.

In commenting on their new findings post-doctoral researcher Martin Rahm noted:

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

A video created by JPL shows Titan's environment based on imagery captured by the Galileo space probe:  

It would be a good time to send an additional robot to Titan for more investigations and analysis from the surface of the super-cold moon.



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