Will Titan, one of Saturn’s moons, be the next rock humans aspire to reach after visiting Mars? Possibly so – according to new research published in Science Advances, researchers have found a complex molecule in Titan’s atmosphere that could very well lead to the formation of life.
The molecule is vinyl cyanide and researchers believe it could be the key to developing cell membranes in Titan’s environment. Unlike Earth, Titan’s atmosphere is extremely cold. As a result, lipids can’t form and create cell membranes as is common on this planet. However, vinyl cyanide mixed with liquid methane — a substance Titan has lakes of — could very well foster the development of those essential cell membranes.
The discovery was made by NASA’s Cassini probe, which has been exploring the Saturn system for 13 years. According to The Verge, evidence of the molecule was found on Titan but the probe wasn’t able to provide any conclusive measurements. To circumvent this, researchers used data collected from the Atacama Large Millimeter Array in Chile. Scientists were able to read the radio waves emitted by different types of frequencies which result from various gas molecules jumping back and forth from one level of energy to another to determine that similar to Earth, Titan has periodic rainfalls. Of course, unlike showers of water, rainfall on Titan is liquid methane. Because of this fact, it was concluded there is a likely chance vinyl cyanide can also be found in the moon’s methane lakes.
While no evidence yet exists that there are cell membrane-like structures forming on Titan, the researchers discovered at the minimum that it is possible for life to develop on the moon. As a result, scientists feel encouraged to continue studying it.
Said Martin Cordiner, co-author of the study, ”This is a far cry from saying [life] definitely happens on Titan and these cells are involved in some kind of primitive life. But it gives us a starting point in that discussion. If there was going to be life in Titan’s oceans, then it’s plausible vinyl cyanide could be a component of that.”
Via The Verge