Space & Astronomy
What would life on Titan be like ?
By T.K. Randall
March 1, 2015 · 6 comments
The Huygens probe parachuted down on to Titan in 2005. Image Credit: NASA
Scientists have come up with a concept for a life form that could survive on Saturn's moon Titan.
Titan is a place that on the outset appears to possess many things that seem uncannily familiar - oceans, rivers, snow-capped mountains and even an active weather system.
Take a closer look however and it soon becomes apparent that Titan couldn't be more alien. Its rivers and oceans aren't filled with liquid water but with an exotic form of liquid hydrocarbons while its snow-capped peaks are actually dusted with a coating of methane.
To determine what type of life forms could potentially thrive in such a hellish environment, scientists left behind all possible preconceptions about life as we know it here on Earth and went back to the drawing board. What they came up with was a concept for methane-based oxygen-free cells that, being comprised of organic nitrogen compounds, could theoretically thrive in the extreme cold.
"We're not biologists, and we're not astronomers, but we had the right tools," said Professor Paulette Clancy of Cornell University. "Perhaps it helped, because we didn't come in with any preconceptions about what should be in a membrane and what shouldn't. "
"We just worked with the compounds that we knew were there and asked, 'If this was your palette, what can you make out of that?'"
The team's next step will be to attempt to demonstrate how the alien cells would behave in a methane environment while also looking at how they might reproduce in an oxygen environment.
"Ours is the first concrete blueprint of life not as we know it," said grad student James Stevenson.
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