This mysterious orange moon 800 million miles from Earth might be home to a unique form of alien life

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PIA08118
ESA/NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of
Arizona

At first glance, Saturn’s moon Titan doesn’t seem like the kind
of place that could host alien life. The average temperature of
this distant orange ball is a frigid -290 degrees Fahrenheit.

And while Titan is the only other place in the solar system where
we know there are flowing liquids on the surface, its lakes,
rivers, and seas are filled with methane and ethane (too toxic
for any Earthly lifeforms to survive in). Any water on the planet
would be frozen solid.

But what if there were a different form of life? What if there
were one that didn’t need water to survive — something we’ve
never seen here on Earth?

A different form 0f life

According to a new study by scientists at Cornell University,
there’s a chance that
life actually could exist on this distant moon
.

That’s because when sunlight hits Titan’s toxic yellow
atmosphere, it produces hydrogen cyanide (HCN) — a molecule that
researchers believe was vital in pre-life, or prebiotic reactions
that led to life on our own planet.

HCN reacts to form large molecules called polymers, including
polyimine. And polyimine is able to absorb a wide spectrum of
light – “so
wide that it’s enough to capture light penetrating Titan’s dense
and hazy atmosphere
,” making it a possible catalyst for life,
reports Science Alert.

The Cornell team looked at data collected by NASA’s
Cassini-Huygens mission. They were able to
predict various compounds that could be made from HCN
, and
were able to calculate some of these compounds’ properties,
reports Digital Trends.

In the end, the calculations suggested that the prebiotic
reactions were possible and the resulting chemical structures
were capable of functions like light absorption.

“If life could exist there, it would need to function very
differently from ‘life as we know it,’ and offer clues to the
limitations of life in the universe,” Martin Rahm lead author of
the study, told Digital Trends.

A hunting ground for alien life

This new research gives scientists even more reasons to take a
closer look at Titan in their hunt for extraterrestrial
life.

Scientists
think
that there is liquid water under the frozen surface of
Titan, but locked away in a massive underground ocean – and
there’s a lot of speculation
that these kinds of underground oceans
located throughout the
Solar System could hypothetically give rise to life,”
ScienceAlert reports.

Although this new paper does not actually predict life on Titan’s
surface, it supports the idea that the moon’s environment might
be capable of supporting prebiotic chemistry necessary for life
to evolve.

The Cornell team hopes to continue investigating the moon’s
ability to sustain life by conducting experiments on Earth
modeled after Titan’s chemistry.

“If future observations could show there is prebiotic chemistry
in a place like Titan,
it would be a major breakthrough
,” said Rahm in a press
release. “This paper is indicating that prerequisites for
processes leading to a different kind of life could exist on
Titan, but this [is] only the first step.”

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