One of the biggest questions for space scientists are whether or not we’re alone in our universe. The constant search for other forms of life in our own solar system continues, and beyond the planets that reside here, we’re also checking moons and other space rocks that might have the necessary environment to support life.
Among those is Titan, the largest of Saturn’s dozens of moons, and Cornell scientists believe that the environment on the moon might have the conditions necessary to help foster the start-up of living organisms.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute
The study, which appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, brings up a lot of interesting points about the chemistry on Titan in relation to the prerequisites of a pre-biotic environment.
Titan is a methane-rich moon, and methane is one of the key elements that scientists look for when they search the solar system for signs of life. Methane is given off by life forms on Earth, so it can be a good indicator of life.
Titan’s methane traces can be found not only in the atmospheric clouds, but also on the surface. The cold moon has oceans of methane that evaporates up into the clouds and then rains upon its surface. The process by which this happens is very similar to Earth’s water cycle.
Another fun fact about Titan is that the atmospheric pressure there is very similar to that of Earth. Nevertheless, the composition of the atmosphere is very different than Earth’s because there is a low oxygen content and very little, if any, water.
In the early days of Earth, the environment was probably very similar. Methane concentrations were probably high and oxygen levels low, and the conditions paved the way for life to begin on Earth and transformed the planet into what it has become today.
Using what we know about Earth and what we think we know about Titan, it’s logical to think that Titan may actually have an environment that’s friendly towards the formation of simple life forms.
Whether or not life forms already exist on Titan is yet to be proven, but scientists seem to be in agreeance that even if life does not yet exist on the moon, the chemical conditions are pretty close to ‘just right enough’ to where life could eventually form there.
Source: EurekAlert, Washington Post