Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, and its methane oceans just revealed a strange new set of properties as scientists determined that these could reportedly be capable of producing cellular life. More precisely, the vinyl cyanide which they produce is allegedly capable of building cell membranes and cellular life.
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center scientists led by Maureen Palmer are behind a new study on the matter. They based their research on data gathered by the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array radio telescope in Chile.
Its observations revealed the presence of a complex molecule in Titan’s atmosphere
Titan’s Methane Oceans and Their Place in the Life Equation
Scientists point out that any potential life form on Titan will be greatly different to any we are used to. This is because the moon’s surface pools of liquids are methane oceans. The surface of this natural satellite is believed to be dominated by methane and ethane lakes and seas and by nitrogen.
According to the recent research, this may also be hosting significant quantities of C2H3CN or vinyl cyanide. Here on Earth, this is a colorless, flammable and toxic liquid. However, its abilities to form a membrane are used in the production of synthetic rubber and acrylic resins.
Based on data gathered on Titan up until 2014, Titan’s atmosphere seems to be holding vinyl cyanide. A closer look at revealed that this might be in its greatest density at some 200 kilometers above the moon’s surface.
However, the researchers also believe that these may be due to Titan’s weather patterns. These conclude that the weather may be circulating it in a substantial measure.
More exactly, they suggest that rain-like phenomena, caused by the methane oceans, might be pushing significant quantities of vinyl cyanide downwards. This leads to its remaining trapped in the seas and lakes of the moon.
“Cell membranes are a crucial component of any living organism and simulations indicate that, at the temperature of Titan’s methane lakes, vinyl cyanide … would form the most stable membranes,” writes the team.
They offer the Ligeia Mare, the second largest ocean, which is almost pure methane, could contain enough of it to make almost 10 million membranes/cubic centimeters.
Study results are available in the journal Sciences Advances.
Image Source: JPL/NASA