Saturn’s moon Titan reveals even more life-sustaining possibilities

Chris Burns - Apr 3, 2013
Saturn’s moon Titan reveals even more life-sustaining possibilities

The moon known as Titan should ring a bell for you if you’re interested in the possibility of life on planets other than our own. Saturn’s yellow moon has been the subject of life-sustaining chatter for some time now, the most recent discovery about it having been found in an experiment done right here on Earth. Down at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, an experiment has been done that suggests life in a whole new region before suspected to be devoid of it.

The experiment at hand simulated the atmosphere of Titan and suggested that complex organic chemistry extends lower into the atmosphere than science previously suspected. These strands are such that the building blocks of life could spring forth – these results point toward prebiotic materials swimming around an area of this moon that makes this heavenly body exciting all over again.

“Scientists previously thought that as we got closer to the surface of Titan, the moon’s atmospheric chemistry was basically inert and dull. Our experiment shows that’s not true. The same kind of light that drives biological chemistry on Earth’s surface could also drive chemistry on Titan, even though Titan receives far less light from the sun and is much colder. Titan is not a sleeping giant in the lower atmosphere, but at least half awake in its chemical activity.” – Murthy Gudipati, lead author of the paper on this subject published at JPL.

The paper published on these findings can be found in Nature Communications this week. Co-author Mark Allen, principal investigator of the JPL Titan team that is a part of the NASA Astrobiology Institute, headquartered at Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California, had a bit to say as well.

“We’ve known that Titan’s upper atmosphere is hospitable to the formation of complex organic molecules. Now we know that sunlight in the Titan lower atmosphere can kick-start more complex organic chemistry in liquids and solids rather than just in gases.” – Allen

The result of the experiments conducted by this team show a much larger volume in the bits of Titan’s atmosphere involved in the production of more complex organic chemicals than previously suspected. The full team of researchers involved on this project included Ronen Jacovi, a NASA postdoctoral fellow from Israel; Isabelle Couturier of the University of Provence, Marseille, France; and Antti Lignell, a Finnish Academy of Science postdoctoral fellow from Helsinki at JPL.

NOTE: Straight from NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute, the image above is a “true color snapshot” from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft of Titan itself!

[via Michael Interbartolo]

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