Thursday, June 3, 2010
Speculating on Titanian Life
The Jet Propulsion Laboratory reports that new discoveries on the chemistry of Titan could be sign of an exotic form of life.
Mark Allen, principal investigator with the NASA Astrobiology Institute Titan team, is quick to point out that the observed phenomena could very well have a non-biological explanation, and that we should be careful not to jump to conclusions. But some astrobiologists are saying that the findings -- involving the unexplained disappearance of hydrogen and a lack of acetylene at the surface -- could be caused by a microbial methane-based life form consuming the hydrogen for respiration (or something like it) and acetylene for food.
Since Titan is so cold, life there is unlikely to be water-based. But if some sort of liquid is required for life processes, methane might be an adequate substitute, as the Saturnian moon is known to have liquid hydrocarbons on the surface.
Though inconclusive, these results are tantalizing, and it's clear that Titan well deserves more study.
Pictured above, an artist's rendering of the surface of Titan, with a liquid hydrocarbon lake in the foreground.