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NASA Space Science

Hints of Life Found On Saturn's Moon Titan 227

Calopteryx writes "New Scientist reports that in 2005, researchers predicted two potential signatures of life on Titan. Now, thanks to research done with the help of the Cassini spacecraft, both have been seen, although non-biological chemical reactions could also be behind the observations. NASA's writeup has further details: 'One key finding comes from a paper online now in the journal Icarus [abstract] that shows hydrogen molecules flowing down through Titan's atmosphere and disappearing at the surface. Another paper online now in the Journal of Geophysical Research maps hydrocarbons on the Titan surface and finds a lack of acetylene. This lack of acetylene is important because that chemical would likely be the best energy source for a methane-based life on Titan, said Chris McKay, an astrobiologist at NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., who proposed a set of conditions necessary for this kind of methane-based life on Titan in 2005. One interpretation of the acetylene data is that the hydrocarbon is being consumed as food. But McKay said the flow of hydrogen is even more critical because all of their proposed mechanisms involved the consumption of hydrogen.'"
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Hints of Life Found On Saturn's Moon Titan

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  • Giant Laboratory (Score:3, Interesting)

    by pankajmay ( 1559865 ) on Friday June 04, 2010 @03:28PM (#32462416)
    Titan is a young celestial body - with its own dense atmosphere and the only body until now in the solar system that has surface liquids apart from us.

    Sure it can be hypothesized that since Titan is young - it probably is taking a course that Earth took millions of years ago. With the distance from Sun rendering it cold and the fact that it orbits Saturn being the primary differences.

    Of course finding Life would be an enormous discovery. But if we start with what we already know - that Organic reactions are taking place on Titan's surface, and that it is a giant Organic Soup -- It gives us a huge interesting laboratory to study and experiment!

    We can even direct Titan's course of life by controlled introduction of earth's anaerobic life on its surface -- since we already know a hypothesis on how our own Earth's atmosphere has evolved into the current air composition -- we can *test* and use those theories to change Titan's atmosphere, in turn not only validating our theories, but may be making Titan inhabitable like Earth!

    Exciting to say the least! If only we humans can, just for a second -- stop bickering amongst ourselves and look outwards to this possibility!!
  • by DM9290 ( 797337 ) on Friday June 04, 2010 @06:41PM (#32464794) Journal

    The main reason they sterilize their probes is to get "cleaner" data and no risk of contamination of future probe readings. After all, one cell is all they need to find. Any false-positive will be a disaster that they'd never live down.

    not to mention contaminating other components of the same probe.

    at least the discovery that earth life flourished on a celestial body would be scientifically interesting. A space probe that did nothing but detect that it was self-contaminated prior to launch and can't provide useful data would be a total failure.

  • by infinitelink ( 963279 ) on Friday June 04, 2010 @08:36PM (#32465806) Homepage Journal
    Actually I don't think his is a bad point. First off, we DON'T understand the metabolisms of most microbes on earth: most CAN'T be cultured in a lab because of this, experimented with, etc. etc.: only a little subset of the entire known microbial biota are even available for us to research. Beyond this, however, the known range of things that microbes can eat is expanding beyond our wildest imaginings: and not just on the bottom of oceans. That's why we now have microbes to use to eat oil spills, nuclear waste, and even metals (ummm....iron and steal, yum!). Not kidding about the bacteria that eat metals, by the way, which incidentally...DO IT BY HYDROGEN AND ELECTRON EXCHANGES. There's all sorts of stuff that one can tell you haven't even considered from the comment you just made: you need to do more dreaming "dream[er]...".

    P.S. bacteria have survived in the vaccum of space on the moon, so "[they] would most likely die" is also not a very informed statement. I don't mean to be too insulting here, just very frank about the state of knowledge on these things vs. what you wrote: that is rose to "5, Insightful" just demanded the bio nerd in me to respond.
  • by infinitelink ( 963279 ) on Friday June 04, 2010 @08:41PM (#32465836) Homepage Journal
    I need to mention that the microbes known no earth, with all their various metabolisms, sometimes seem as though they really are from separate planets. That said, enver underestimate their abilities to swap genetic material and re-synthesize their machineries for different environments. Knowing this, "there should be little chance of confusion" isn't so reassuring: it already is just with the "earth" based life, even trying to figure out whether this or that is related to that or the other, where such and such came from, etc. (the so-called maps of microbial relationships are extremely pick-and-choosy, subjectively prioritizing one or another criterium over others depending on the values of the researchers, and often more in favor of various formulations of theories instead of the barest and hardest facts or most critical considerations: honestly it's practically impossible to get past the sheer amount of information, that's ever-increasing by magnitudes, in order to do better, but much better can be done, it's just that complicated and as I said, confusing). Oh, and this, http://science.slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=1675560&cid=32465806http://science.slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=1675560&cid=32465806 [slashdot.org]

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