Another good reason to sail the seas of Titan—life may exist there


Come and sail the methane seas of Titan! (credit: NASA)

Saturn’s moon, Titan, is one of the most exotic places in the Solar System, with large lakes filled with nearly pure, liquid methane, a thick atmosphere that provides surface pressures similar to those on Earth, and very cold temperatures of about -180 degrees Celsius. Aside from Earth, Titan is the only body in the Solar System with liquid on its surface.

This has always tantalized astrobiologists who have wondered about the possibility of some kind of unknown life living in those methane lakes. Now scientists have found some solid theoretical reasons to believe that some of the complex chemistry in Titan’s atmosphere could support life on the world.

Citing experimental and observational data, the researchers note the abundance of hydrogen cyanide in Titan’s atmosphere. This is a hydrogen-bonding molecule that may combine with other molecules on the surface to form polymers, including polyimine. Using quantum mechanical calculations, the scientists demonstrated that polyimine has electronic and structural properties at very cold temperatures that could potentially facilitate prebiotic chemistry in conditions like those on the surface of Titan, especially in tidal pools near the large seas.

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