Something is consuming hydrogen and organic molecules on Saturn's moon Titan, and the recipe matches astrobiologists' theories about possible methane-based life. Granted, there may be other chemical explanations -- it's just that no one knows what they are yet.
New data from the Cassini spacecraft show hydrogen is disappearing near Titan's surface. What's more, scientists have not been able to find acetylene, an organic molecule that should be pretty abundant in the moon's thick atmosphere.
All this fits very nicely with a theory from NASA astrobiologist Chris McKay, who proposed five years ago that microbial life on Titan could breathe hydrogen and eat acetylene, producing methane as a result.
Scientists emphasize that the findings are not proof of life, and there's plenty of work to do before non-biological causes can be ruled out. Scientific conservatism suggests that a biological explanation should be the last choice after all non-biological explanations are addressed," says Mark Allen of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., in a NASA release.
The good news is that even if life is ruled out, the non-biological explanations are still interesting. According to previous studies, hydrogen should be distributed pretty evenly throughout Titan's atmosphere. But it's disappearing at the surface.
"It's as if you have a hose and you're squirting hydrogen onto the ground, but it's disappearing," says Darrell Strobel, a Cassini interdisciplinary scientist based at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md., who authored a paper published in the journal Icarus.
It's possible that the hydrogen is combining with carbon on Titan's surface to produce methane. But Titan is too cold for that to happen quickly enough to account for all the missing hydrogen. An unknown mineral could be the culprit, meaning scientists may have found a new substance previously unknown to exist on Titan.
The explanations for the dearth of acetylene are equally puzzling. The hydrocarbon should form abundantly in icy aerosols in Titan's atmosphere, but it's not there. It's possible that sunlight or cosmic rays are transforming the acetylene into more complex molecules that would fall to the ground with no acetylene signature, according to NASA.
It's also possible that chemical reactions are transforming acetylene into benzene (which Cassini did observe on Titan's surface), but that would require a catalyst, which hasn't been identified.
There's one more thing: Cassini observed an organic compound with the benzene that scientists have not been able to identify.
Cassini has several more Titan flybys in which to gather data -- in fact, the craft is set to fly within 2,000 miles of Titan's surface this afternoon, to make infrared scans of the moon's north polar region. The region includes Kraken Mare, the largest lake on Titan, which covers a greater area than the Caspian Sea on Earth. If methane-based microbes do live on Titan, there's a good chance they would live in just those sort of lakes.
If all other options have been ruled out and all indicators point to life then you can be sure that a mission to Titan will soon follow.
Life on Titan, why not...
We are so use to the idea of carbon-based water dependant life-forms and haven't been subjected to the extreme colds that are common on Titan that a carbon-based liquid-methane life form may be more common than we think. They are both liquids which would allow a flexible mobile life form to grow and maneuver in extreme environments. After all they are much more planets size worlds in colder places in our universe than they are planets in warmer parts of our universe.
Living close to a star kills most organic molecules; stars emit UV's that destroy carbon-based molecules. Earth is the only planet in the inner solar system that has organic molecules living on its surface but it is much too warm and the atmosphere is not dense enough to have methane in liquid form. The main reason the earth has organic molecules is because of our robust atmosphere and magnetic field that protect organic molecules from the harmful UV’s. In the outer solar system organic molecules are everywhere...
Ha, who knows maybe the Titanium’s exploded the oil rig in the Golf of Mexico, they are trying to Tarraform Earth to be a more hospitable planet so they can have a warmer vacation spot to visit during their winter months...
Get excited everyone, and then when the non-biological cause is found out....we won't hear much about it.
yeah but it's cool to ponder as long as you don't get too emotionally attached to the idea. what i like is the notion that methane based life if it exists, seems more robust. that life will find a way to come into being even when conditions aren't "just so". life may not be just a fragile fluke, but in spite of being just a speck, it's also an entity of consequence in the universe.
Incredible! Time to set up a base there! LEts do it!
If this has a DNA/RNA code that would be amazing enough, If it has a totally different basis for coding its genetic information, that is mind blowing. If the universe can evolve two totally different living systems in one solar system then, in the greater cosmos, the possibilities are unlimited.
can they see if more hydrogen is disappearing around lakes or in certain areas?
Truly, I wonder if they even use nucleic acids for genetic material, I suppose that it would have to be more robust for all this to be possible
Would they even use acids?
I am a physical therapist and a health nut. My roommate and I co-own a vitamin shop that she runs full-time.
Can these new life forms be used as fuel?
It is not probable, that genetic information would be stored in nucleic acid based form. The formation of dna into stable form (double helix) requires it to happen in water. The same is true to the proteins as we know them. If there is life, and it is based on DNA, it would be unbelievable.
there's alot of evidence to suggest that, while Earth was being bombarded by big ol' rocks in the early solar system, life was popping up and being eradicated all over the planet.
life seems to just happen when certain conditions are met. it's reasonable to assume if life CAN exist on Titan, then it probably pops up just as inexplicably there too.
and, if it popped up there millions or billions of years ago, then it would have been evolving in those "hostile" conditions.
i'm cautiously optimistic that we discover a great menagerie of Titanic life forms.
"All these shall be yours, except Europa."
Everyone! cool your jets! - You have been brainwashed into thinking that life can "evolve" from some chemicals and a spark, or something like that. Give us a break. You cant just take a bunch of watch parts, put them in the "elements" for millions of years and expect a functioning wrist watch to evolve from it. A watch is a whole lot less complicated than any life form. Its ridiculous and doesn't make sense!
I'm not going to get my hopes up, but it would be nice to discover some form of life that does not exist on earth. The more complex the better. Just to watch the orginized religions of the world to try and explain it as witchcraft.
@Kerulian - My hopes aren't up either (too much reading about oil spill fixes, I suspect) but I don't think that any major religions technically exclude the possibility of other forms of life existing. If God (being a Christian myself) made everything on Earth through whatever means he chose to do so, what would stop him from making life on other planets/moons?
dustmuster, your watch argument has been whipped to death in many debates. You got anything new? Evolution is a fact live with it and you will be happier.
This is an exciting possibility. I don't think it will be long until we find hard evidence of life outside our planet.
Great! We (possibly) find life on another planet and it smells like a fart.
Fact is, no life can exist without water. Water, as the most universal solvent and a liquid with a very high specific heat, is absolutely essential for the complex molecular processes required for all known forms of life. As well, it's just not possible for anything but carbon to form the long informational chains which all life needs to have any degree of complexity. Furthermore, chemical processes are mind-numbingly slow at the extremely low temperatures necessary for the formation of liquid methane. Even if a lifeform suddenly popped into existence in the pool, the extreme temperature would immediately render it completely inert.
Regardless of what anyone thinks, however, all the evidence must be examined before a complete conclusion can be drawn. I'll certainly not be one to 100% rule out the possibility, however remote it may be, that there is some form of life on Titan. Alternative explanations are possible, and I'm sure we'll find out more when we gather more data. Until then, quit hyping the possibility of life around every corner!
@GregNJ: I lol'd XD
I have a couple different subjects:
ONE- why can't I report the salesmen above as spam for hopeful removal anymore?
TWO- Just because we can't imagine life existing in another form, how likely would it be for a differently-based lifeform to imagine the complexities of cellular respiration we have on evelved here, let alone photosynthesis? As to life requiring water, well, that is life AS WE KNOW IT.
Until we have conclusively proven that life does NOT exist on every possible world I'm not going to say it doesn't. I'll keep my hopes up. One of these days we will find something somewhere. It may or may not resemble anything we have ever seen. It may or may not be the Galactic Warlords come to conquer us. Who knows- that is why Speculative Fiction is so much fun. And the more we more, the better we can speculate.
funny aross lol
The sheer complexity of the RNA/DNA of even the most simple sustainable life form makes me skeptical of evolutionary puratism. I've looked for plausible explanations for how a living molecule could spontaniously self-assemble out of non-living material. It seems to me like the belief in that initial self-genesis is as much a matter of faith as the belief in the Biblical Genesis. I'm skeptical of that too--at least of the traditional interpretations.
The universe "seems" too personal to me for it to ruled merely by rote physics. Consciouseness, beauty, meaning, value all "seem" too substantial to me for them not to be more than naturally selected neurological software adaptations. "Seems" being the operative word.
If there is life on Titan, cool! Whether there was a divine hand in it or not. I'd expect there was.
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Lifeforms on Titan? I wonder what they'd taste like on the grill with a little Worcestershire sauce?
I always wondered if ESA’s Huygens probe caught a glimpse of life on Titan. Following is a link to one of their raw images. If you look closely at the upper portion of the image, you can see shapes with features that resemble eyes and tails laying on what looks like a Titan beach.
We always seem to use the same reasons for exploring space, finding life, we'll figure out how the solar system was formed or how the universe began.
This all seems disingenuous and is generally untrue. In our exploration of space it seems likely that life will be the norm rather than the exception. We're barely in our infancy in communicating with other life forms on our own planet, with preconceived notions regarding both our own and other life forms intelligence.
Obviously bacterial life forms and even viruses are smarter than us since they continue to sicken and kill us, we're just finding out that they do indeed communicate and even live in communities with other life forms that also communicate. These other life forms communicate with chemicals and electrical signals.
Already folks here would seek to exploit alien life forms before we have even gathered or studied them. The value in alien life forms would be to study their structures and metabolism in order to help make life better on earth. Finding other life forms whether on the Moon, Titan, or Ganymede, or even just floating in space itself will be exciting but may just add more complications to our explorations.
What I really want to see from the space program are real photos that match those artist renderings, and a LOT more video.
SeekerOfWhatsReal: Just because something "seems" to be true or right has very little bearing on whether it is or not. Remember: "A lie is a lie even if everyone believes it. The truth is the truth even if no one believes it."
Thing is, the more we learn about life on Earth, the more we realize our existence is like throwing a dart from Pluto and hitting the pinky finger of someone standing on Earth's moon.
We have just the right sun, just the right solar orbit, just the right assortment of planets, just the right atmosphere, just the right mass, just the right magnetic field strength, just the right heat-generating core, just the right amount of water, just the right proportions of elements, just the right properties of physics and matter, and have just the right galactic orbit in just the right location of just the right kind of galaxy for life to continue to exist on Earth.
Geocentric theory may have been falsified, but I have to say that the real science seems to point to the whole universe being made just for Man. Sorry, Mitch, but life IS the exception rather than the norm. Certainly higher lifeforms.
@rdsnpcola: Hilarious! Now that you mention it, I think I DO like the idea of tasting a cooked alien fish! XD
You're pointing out how our particular brand of life happened to occur HERE. We don't know that other types of life, perhaps countless other types, didn't occur under other sets of conditions.
I'm familiar with the "Goldilocks theory" you describe, and it may turn out to be true, but it may just as easily turn out to be false. We can only speculate; we just don't know yet. It's a big universe.
Those who look for divine order in the universe are likely to find it, whether it exists or not. Folks who point to the logic and beauty of nature as evidence of intelligent design are basically highlighting a principle feature of man: that we are a pattern-matching species that seeks purpose and order, and will impose it ourselves if we don't find it. Not to say God doesn't exist, but I don't think our capacity to discern patterns in Nature proves His existence either. It's faith, not science.
However, Kerulian's comment further up suggests that somewhere the Bible and/or other religious tract(s) says we're the only intelligent life in the Universe. I've encountered that comment before. Could someone point me to that passage if it's in the Bible? I must have missed it. Not to belabor the point, but toward the end of Genesis there's a line that suggests the opposite, mentioning how the sons of Adam (presumably the only humans at that point) encounter the daughters of Man and find them attractive, whoever the heck the "daughters of Man" are. That doesn't seem to support the claim that the Bible says we're alone in the universe. I'm not exactly sure what it suggests.
But the barbecue now, that does sound interesting. To paraphrase Homer Simpson, "Ah-h-h-h! Roasted aliens!"