Saturn's moon Titan has been the subject of a lot of study by scientists, and one recent discovery could have huge implications for future research.
An astonishing discovery on Titan could mark a big step forward in the search for alien life. The massive moon of Saturn has long been the focus of scientists hoping to find life outside of Earth, and now they’ve found that it has another ingredient for life: vinyl cyanide molecules, which could form cell membrances in the moon’s liquid-hydrocarbon seas.
While we know of only oxygen-based life, scientists have hypothesized that it’s possible that seas of methane could result in a habitable environment for sometype of life, especially since Titan has a lot of the necessary complex organic compounds needed for life already.
One big sticking point to this possibility is the fact that cell membrances on Earth consist of fatty molecules called lipids, which couldn’t survive on Titan. But these vinyl cyanide molecules could provide the alternative cell membrane necessary for life.
“Titan boasts a thick nitrogen and methane atmosphere with some of the most complex chemistry seen in the Solar System,” an ESA statement reads. “It is even thought to mimic the atmosphere of early Earth, before the build-up of oxygen. As such, Titan can be seen as a planet-scale laboratory that can be studied to understand the chemical reactions that may have led to life on Earth, and that could be occurring on planets around other stars.
“In Titan’s upper atmosphere, nitrogen and methane are exposed to energy from sunlight and energetic particles in Saturn’s magnetosphere. These energy sources drive reactions involving nitrogen, hydrogen and carbon, which lead to more complicated prebiotic compounds.”