According to Cornell University researchers, Saturn’s Titan can support alien life. The scientists discovered prebiotic elements on the satellite’s surface that may be able to develop later into microorganisms.
The researchers studied the chemistry of Titan’s surface and found chemical items that could sustain life, even in the absence of water.
The Fascinating Weather on Titan
Titan is the biggest moon orbiting Saturn, having a mass larger than Mercury. The surface of Titan contains areas with stable liquid, which makes the satellite the only object that resembles Earth.
Titan is composed of water ice with immersions of rocky materials. It has a dense atmosphere that prevented telescopes from observing its surface. It was only after the 2004 Cassini-Huygens mission that researchers discovered lakes of liquid hydrocarbon in the polar region.
The satellite’s atmosphere is composed of nitrogen, with methane and ethane clouds presumably coming from Saturn’s rings. Titan’s methane cycle resembles the water cycle on Earth, creating clouds, winds, and rain.
From Prebiotic Chemistry to Alien Life
The study follows the properties of polyimine found on Titan, and its capacities to be a part of prebiotic chemistry.
One of the most significant chemicals involved in the research was hydrogen cyanide. The substance could aggregate into long chains that are called polymers. One of them is polyimine, which can stimulate chemical reactions even in the cold atmosphere of Titan.
The researchers believe that the chemical compounds could use energy from the sun as the methane clouds of the moon do not completely obscure solar rays. The sunlight could interact with the nitrogen and methane found in Titan’s atmosphere, and it could afterward create hydrogen cyanide.
Hydrogen cyanide is an organic compound which is toxic to humans. However, the scientists hope that the conditions offered by Titan are enough to create a step forward towards the field of organic chemistry and complex compounds, which in turn could be the fundament for alien life.
Researchers would need further measurements and observations in order to set all the details on the actual possibility of prebiotic life on Titan. However, the recent experiment shows that the pre-conditions for complex chemical structures could be found on Saturn’s satellite.
Moreover, the dynamic and complex meteorological processes on Titan are a reason to believe that the large ice object could have many other surprises to offer.
The data used by the scientists was taken by Huygens probe which landed in 2005. Ten years after, NASA awarded a grant to a submarine project which could explore the seas of Titan.
Image Source: Wikipedia