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Space & Astronomy

Cassini finds building blocks of life on Titan

By T.K. Randall
July 29, 2017 · Comment icon 9 comments

Titan is continuing to surprise scientists. Image Credit: NASA
Saturn's mysterious moon Titan may be a lot more habitable than scientists had previously believed.
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, not water ice.

Now though, scientists analyzing data returned by NASA's Cassini spacecraft have found what appear to be carbon chain anions - the building blocks of more complex molecules and a key indicator that Titan, far from being an inhospitable hellscape, might actually be capable of supporting primitive life.

The discovery also suggests that other Titan-like worlds may also be potentially habitable.
"We have made the first unambiguous identification of carbon chain anions in a planet-like atmosphere," said study lead author Ravi Desai of University College London.

"We believe [these] are a vital stepping-stone in the production line of growing bigger, and more complex organic molecules, such as the moon's large haze particles."

"This is a known process in the interstellar medium - the large molecular clouds from which stars themselves form - but now we've seen it in a completely different environment, meaning it could represent a universal process for producing complex organic molecules."

"The question is, could it also be happening at other nitrogen-methane atmospheres like at Pluto or Triton, or at exoplanets with similar properties ?"

Source: Independent | Comments (9)

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Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #1 Posted by XenoFish 7 years ago
I like reading stuff like this.
Comment icon #2 Posted by taniwha 7 years ago
...And then finally, after billions of years, the countdown nears completion, for on this day the hatching begins and an unstoppable chain reaction of life will flourish through Saturn's veins seeding a species so remarkable, so intelligent that.... hang on!  What's that object blazing towards the nest? OMG! Not now! ....WHYyyyyyyyyyyyy!... 
Comment icon #3 Posted by EBE Hybrid 7 years ago
If the building blocks of life can exist on cassini then the chances of the building blocks of life being present throughout the universe must be greater now
Comment icon #4 Posted by RoofGardener 7 years ago
Weeeell... the probability is what it always was. It's just that our understanding of the odds have changed  
Comment icon #5 Posted by Merc14 7 years ago
I'm not sure it works like that and if it did then certainly satellites and such, which have no precautions used when building them save clean rooms and comets would've spread far more "building blocks of life".  What they are concerned with, I believe,is actual bacteria that was missed during the sterilization process and having that spread on another solar body, especially one like Titan that has so much "food" for said bacteria to consume and grow.  At least that is what I believe and if wrong then hopefully someone corrects me.  Crashing the probe into Saturn guarantees no possibility ... [More]
Comment icon #6 Posted by pbarosso 7 years ago
what if, to make life it takes a factory? not like a factory as we know it, but maybe life starts out as microbes on a methane rich planet/moon like titan and then in order to get more complex life that life has to be somehow transported to an earth like planet/moon where the microbes evolve further.....sort of a galactic butterfly lifecycle
Comment icon #7 Posted by EBE Hybrid 7 years ago
  Sorry, my error, I meant to type that if "the building blocks of life exist on Titan" etc, etc, If we were talking about the building blocks building up on Cassini that'd mean we were having a conversation about a human influenced panspermia (see the music video for Blackstar - David Bowie), where as the point of the original thread is has nothing to do with panspermia, David Bowie or the magnificent video made to accompany Mr Bowie's fantastic musical masterpiece "Blackstar", although if anybody wishes to chat about, or discuss any of the topics mentioned in this post, i'll be happy to jo... [More]
Comment icon #8 Posted by pallidin 7 years ago
Great read! And just to add, I had no idea that Titan is nearly as large as Mars.
Comment icon #9 Posted by BeastieRunner 7 years ago
Wasn't expecting to read about this today.  

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