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Saturn's Moon Titan Host to Alien Life? Chemistry Holds Key to Prebiotic Non-Water-Based Life

Jul 07, 2016 02:40 AM EDT

Could there be alien life on Titan? Researchers from the Cornell University found chemical elements that suggest there could be prebiotic conditions that may allow non-water-based life to thrive.

Scientists have long been eyeing Saturn's largest moon, Titan in the search for life beyond Earth. With the data gathered by NASA's Cassini and Huygens missions, more fact about the moon can be studied today. Aside from Earth-like properties like the terrains, rivers and seas of liquid methane, Hydrogen Cyanide (HCN) was also discovered on Titan.

Its atmosphere is filled with a yellow haze of nitrogen and methane. And the sunlight hitting the toxic atmosphere reveals hydrogen cyanide, the chemical elements that experts consider as the prebiotic chemical key.

"This paper is a starting point, as we are looking for prebiotic chemistry in conditions other than Earth's," Martin Rahm, lead author of the study said in an interview with Astrobiology.Com.  The study was published in the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences.

This discovery made scientists hopeful that they might finally found clues or even better, signs of alien life on Titan. Some experts believe that some "cold-adapted" non-water-based life form can be found in Titan given it's methane-rich but Earth-like appearance.

Could alien life form exist on Titan? Scientists say it's possible in the correct chemical condition. And finding out if there's one in Titan is not easy.

"In order for anything to happen on Titan, you need to be able to do chemistry at a low temperature," Rahm said in an interview with Gizmodo. In the study, Rahm and his team identified a process with which the Sun's energy can be absorbed despite Titan's atmosphere.

HCN on Titan's atmosphere creates polyimine that is flexible and can absorb sunlight leading to conditions suitable for prebiotic life. The study is considered as the first step to more rigorous alien-life hunting dedicated on Titan, according to GizMag

Researchers say that if they can prove there indeed is a prebiotic chemical condition on Titan, it will be a breakthrough that can lead to finding conducive habitat for other alien life forms outside the Earth.


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