NASA’s Cassini Spacecraft Detects Building Blocks of Life on Titan
Titan is continuing to surprise scientists.
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 ?”
Image Credit: NASA