Life on Titan Could be Possible Due to Newly-Discovered Molecule

Fagjun | Published 2017-08-02 00:25

Image by NASA


Planetary scientists have found an organic compound that could be vital to the presence of life on Titan.


Titan is Saturn's largest moon, and is known to have an atmosphere. It is the second-largest moon in our solar system, after Jupiter's Ganymede, and is bigger than planet Mercury. The Cassini mission provided scientists with important information on the moon, including the presence of a nitrogen atmosphere and a weather cycle.


The chemistry on the moon is quite complex, and there have been some speculations that the moon may be able to support life. Still, the odds that there will be life on this chilly moon aren't that great. However, if life does exist on Titan, it's likely that it won't be anything like life as we know it on our own planet. This has something to do with Titan's nitrogen atmosphere, and how it differs from conditions on Earth.


What Alien Life on Titan Could be Like

An Image of Ugeia Mare on Titan [Photo by NASA]


Researchers found that vinyl cyanide (C2H3CN) exists on the Saturnine moon. Vinyl cyanide is toxic and flammable on Earth, but it may just be the key to life on Titan. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center led a team of researchers that looked into Titan's large quantities of vinyl cyanide and found how it could be instrumental to life.


Life on Earth has at least one cell. Each cell has a cell membrane composed of lipids. These membranes won't be able to survive in Titan's subzero temperatures. This is where vinyl cyanide comes in. Instead of lipids, vinyl cyanide can form cell membranes on Titan instead.


This may sound purely theoretical, but it's not. Researchers have done simulations on vinyl cyanide in Titan-like conditions. The experiments showed that the compound is capable of forming stable cell membranes.


Formation of an azotosome [Image by James Stevenson]


How sure are we that there really is vinyl cyanide on Titan? As sure as we can be without actually going to Titan and coming back with samples. The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) recorded observations about Titan, from which scientists were able to confirm the existence of vinyl cyanide on the moon.


The next step now is for scientist to attempt to create azotosomes in Titan-like conditions. Azotosomes are theoretical membranes, which can then tell us if indeed cells can form with vinyl cyanide. Perhaps we may even have a better idea of what alien life on Titan may look like.

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