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Hints of Life Found on Saturn Moon
Gizmodo ^ | June 4, 2010 | Gizmodo

Posted on 06/04/2010 2:27:04 PM PDT by James C. Bennett

 

Hints of Life Found on Saturn Moon

Two potential signatures of life on Saturn's moon Titan have been found by the Cassini spacecraft. But scientists are quick to point out that non-biological chemical reactions could also be behind the observations.

Titan is much too cold to support liquid water on its surface, but some scientists have suggested that exotic life-forms could live in the lakes of liquid methane or ethane that dot the moon's surface.

In 2005, Chris McKay of NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field and Heather R Smith of the International Space University in Strasbourg, France, calculated that such microbes could eke out an existence by breathing in hydrogen gas and eating the organic molecule acetylene, creating methane in the process.

This would result in a lack of acetylene on Titan and a depletion of hydrogen close to the moon's surface, where the microbes would live, they said.

Now, measurements from the Cassini spacecraft have borne out these predictions, hinting that life may be present.

Hungry for hydrogen

Infrared spectra of Titan's surface taken with the Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIMS) showed no sign of acetylene, even though ultraviolet sunlight should constantly trigger its production in the moon's thick atmosphere. The VIMS study, led by Roger Clark of the US Geological Survey in Denver, Colorado, will appear in the Journal of Geophysical Research.

Cassini measurements also suggest hydrogen is disappearing near Titan's surface, according to a study to appear in Icarus by Darrell Strobel of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.

Observations with the spacecraft's Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer and its Composite Infrared Spectrometer revealed that hydrogen produced by UV-triggered chemical reactions in the atmosphere is flowing both upwards and off into space as well as down towards the surface.

Yet the hydrogen is not accumulating near the surface, hinting that something may be consuming it there. The results reveal "very unusual and currently unexplained chemistry", McKay told New Scientist. "Certainly not proof of life, but very interesting."

Too slow

It is possible that the hydrogen is combining with carbon in molecules on Titan's surface to make methane. But at the low temperatures prevalent on Titan, these reactions would normally occur too slowly to account for the disappearing hydrogen.

Similarly, non-biological chemical reactions could transform acetylene into benzene – a hydrocarbon that the VIMS instrument did observe on Titan's surface. But in that case, too, a catalyst would be needed to boost reaction rates enough to account for the dearth of acetylene.

"Scientific conservatism suggests that a biological explanation should be the last choice after all non-biological explanations are addressed," says Mark Allen of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "We have a lot of work to do to rule out possible non-biological explanations."

Jonathan Lunine of the University of Arizona in Tucson, a member of Clark's team, agrees. But he says it may not be possible to distinguish between biological and non-biological explanations without additional missions to Titan. "The only way to know for sure would be to actually get hold of an organism and show that it is alive," he told New Scientist.

Journal references: Icarus (in press); Journal of Geophysical Research (forthcoming)

 

Hints of Life Found on Saturn Moon

New Scientist reports, explores and interprets the results of human endeavour set in the context of society and culture, providing comprehensive coverage of science and technology news.


TOPICS: Culture/Society; News/Current Events; Technical
KEYWORDS: abiogenesis; cassini; extraterrestrial; huygens; life; panspermia; saturn; titan

1 posted on 06/04/2010 2:27:05 PM PDT by James C. Bennett
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To: James C. Bennett
I can just picture our first contact;

“You Earthlings call it Titan but we just call it Pullmyfinger.”

2 posted on 06/04/2010 2:29:36 PM PDT by Hillarys Gate Cult
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To: James C. Bennett

3 posted on 06/04/2010 2:31:50 PM PDT by WKUHilltopper (Fix bayonets!)
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To: KevinDavis

Ping.


4 posted on 06/04/2010 2:32:23 PM PDT by Army Air Corps (Four fried chickens and a coke)
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To: James C. Bennett

Road Trip!!!


5 posted on 06/04/2010 2:33:07 PM PDT by SouthTexas (Congress is out of order!)
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To: James C. Bennett

Doesn’t matter! Obambi has bigger aspirations like trying to land on large balls of ice hurtling around the solar system!

All that aside, this is really a great find. If it’s true, we should be pushing for more exploration and possibly manned exploration in the next 50 years. I recall in an honors science colloquium in college that the prevalence of methane-consuming organisms in the solar system is likely very high and considered a “life form.” One of the ideas behind terraforming Mars is to implant methanogenes to “scrub” the atmosphere and make it hospitable to carbon dioxide consuming plants which produce oxygen during respiration.

Titan may be inhospitable to human life, but sending rovers there like we did Mars would likely yield some historical data that would revolutionize solar system research for centuries.


6 posted on 06/04/2010 2:34:12 PM PDT by rarestia (It's time to water the Tree of Liberty.)
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To: James C. Bennett

One wonders why they’re so intent on finding life on other planets, when we abort intelligent life on our own.

I know a place where there isn’t life on the surface, and yet, looking deeper we exterminate what life we do find.

Even though we could, we don’t even bother to look at this life until it’s been ripped to shreds while being remove from under the surface.

Just remember folks, these doctors swore...

“FIRST: DO NO HARM!”

They must have made a mistake when they picked the word ‘Hippocratic’, to describe this, because even simple minded children know it’s just hypocritical.


7 posted on 06/04/2010 2:37:17 PM PDT by DoughtyOne (J. D. Hayworth, the next Senator, the Great State of Arizona - Sen. Poopdeck, Panama is calling...)
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To: James C. Bennett

“Scientific conservatism suggests that a biological explanation should be the last choice after all non-biological explanations are addressed”

A biological explanation implies at least two things: an at least moderately complex system capable of reproducing, and (specifically in this case) a means for that complex system to generate catalysts capable of bringing about the reactions postulated.

On earth, those kinds of things require proteins, specifically enzymes - can’t see them evolving in the absence of water, or at temperatures that generate lakes of liquid methane.

That means the researchers had better be prepared to hypothesize a whole new molecular paradigm for the fundamental processes of reproduction and catalysis - good luck with that.


8 posted on 06/04/2010 2:37:33 PM PDT by Stosh
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To: James C. Bennett

Does it look anything like the one on the right?



9 posted on 06/04/2010 2:42:56 PM PDT by dila813
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To: Hillarys Gate Cult

Next: real gas music from Jupiter...


10 posted on 06/04/2010 2:44:33 PM PDT by Noumenon ("Upon what meat doth this our Caesar feed, that he has grown so great?" - Julius Caesar)
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To: James C. Bennett
Two potential signatures of life on Saturn's moon Titan have been found by the Cassini spacecraft. But scientists are quick to point out that non-biological chemical reactions could also be behind the observations.

I got 25 cents that says it's the latter. Anybody want a piece of this high stakes action?
11 posted on 06/04/2010 2:45:58 PM PDT by ZX12R (IMPEACH OBAMA NOW!)
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To: James C. Bennett

Star Trek trivia comes to mind. Among the first contact words of a subsurface microorganism life form was to call humans “bags of dirty water.”


12 posted on 06/04/2010 2:47:25 PM PDT by Truth29
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To: James C. Bennett

In other words “Scientist take a wild guess”


13 posted on 06/04/2010 2:53:55 PM PDT by fish hawk (the)
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To: James C. Bennett

Gee! Missing acetylene and hydrogen! I suppose it’s to big of a leap to assume that they are connected in some fashion without including life. I wonder what the status of ethylene is?


14 posted on 06/04/2010 4:08:35 PM PDT by AndrewC
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To: James C. Bennett

There’s many people who want very much to find life on Titan, because Titan is covered with oceans of methane... a “fossil” fuel. If they don’t find life there then people might claim that fossil fuels on Earth aren’t from fossils. With lefties, it’s follow the money, the control, or the stupid. It’s one or another.


15 posted on 06/04/2010 4:46:56 PM PDT by MarineBrat (Better dead than red!)
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To: James C. Bennett

16 posted on 06/04/2010 4:52:19 PM PDT by dangus
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To: James C. Bennett
Titan is much too cold to support liquid water on its surface, but some scientists have suggested that exotic life-forms could live in the lakes of liquid methane or ethane that dot the moon's surface.

This is a LIE! Whenever there is methane, there is global warming and unless that is offset using carbon credits, the whole place will heat up. I have this information on the authority of leading scientists. So how can it be cool when there is methane?

17 posted on 06/04/2010 5:19:58 PM PDT by JimWayne
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To: rarestia
One of the ideas behind terraforming Mars is to implant methanogenes to “scrub” the atmosphere and make it hospitable to carbon dioxide consuming plants which produce oxygen during respiration.

It doesn't matter how much oxygen we pump into the Martian atmosphere, until we know how to restore the magnetic field it has lost, the atmosphere will never be retained, the solar winds will continually tear it off into the cosmos. That's what happened to the original atmosphere.

18 posted on 06/04/2010 5:25:32 PM PDT by calex59
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To: ColdOne; Tolkien; FreedomPoster; FrPR; BP2; mrreaganaut; Las Vegas Dave; Hell to pay; ...


For other space news go to: http://www.spacetoday.net
For a list of Private Space Companies: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_private_spaceflight_companies

International Association of Space Entrepreneurs
19 posted on 06/04/2010 6:17:52 PM PDT by KevinDavis (Jesus Saves... Allah Kills...)
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To: KevinDavis

bump


20 posted on 06/04/2010 6:19:41 PM PDT by GeronL (Political Correctness Kills)
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To: WKUHilltopper

"...Great Merciful Huygens"

21 posted on 06/05/2010 4:43:31 AM PDT by Vaquero (Don't pick a fight with an old guy. If he is too old to fight, he'll just kill you.)
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To: calex59

Understood. Most of the discussions we had were completely theoretical and were not bounded by the physical or chemical realities of that environment. In the case of Titan, there’s already an atmosphere and likely the potential for success with terraforming.


22 posted on 06/05/2010 8:31:35 AM PDT by rarestia (It's time to water the Tree of Liberty.)
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To: rarestia; All

I think it would be easier to terraform Titan than Mars..


23 posted on 06/06/2010 12:57:47 PM PDT by KevinDavis (Soccer was invented by European ladies to keep them busy while their husbands did the cooking.)
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To: James C. Bennett

If the life-forms there are intelligent, they should close their planetary borders to liberals.


24 posted on 06/06/2010 12:59:22 PM PDT by Canedawg (I'm not digging this tyranny thing.)
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To: MarineBrat

Methane is not considered a fossil fuel. It is the simplest organic compound, and was proven to be produced through biological and non-biological process in the 18th century.

We need to give these scientists credit. They did the opposite of what the global warming con-artists do. They had a hypothesis of how an alternate biological process would work. They projected what it would look like if the processes were running on the moon. Then they looked to see if the evidence was there. (Actually, they tried to disprove the theory ... that’s the way the scientific method is applied.)

They also admit this doesn’t prove the theory. The only thing they can do at this stage is disprove the theory.


25 posted on 06/06/2010 1:48:10 PM PDT by gitmo ( The democRats drew first blood. It's our turn now.)
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To: James C. Bennett

26 posted on 06/07/2010 4:41:17 PM PDT by colorado tanker
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To: James C. Bennett
What, the aliens eat acetylene? Here I was afraid the BEMs would come to take my wife and daughters, when what they're really going to be after is my welding tanks!

Where's my shotgun?

27 posted on 06/09/2010 11:39:29 AM PDT by saundby
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