Alien Life Possible on Saturn’s Moon Titan

Titan Moon

For decades, scientists have believed that life on other planets can only exist if there is water, and the planet is in the “Goldilocks” zone. A planet is in the Goldilocks or habitable zone if it is the right distance away from their sun or star.

Saturn’s largest moon Titan is not in the habitable zone, but it does have a dense atmosphere. It is also the only object, other than Earth, that has stable bodies of surface liquid. With a radius of less than half that of Earth (1601 miles as opposed to 3959 miles), it is nevertheless considerably bigger than our moon which has a radius of 1079 miles.

These factors had scientist decide that Titan was worth exploring and on 25 December 2004, the Huygens atmospheric entry probe was launched to help in the investigation. Since its successful landing on Titan in 2005, a team of researchers at Cornell University have been simulating the conditions found in an effort to show that certain chemical reactions could lead to life forms, even if there is no water present. If this is the case, the theory of life only existing on planets in the Goldilocks zone will continue to lose credibility.

titan colors
True-color image of layers of haze in Titan’s atmosphere (Image Credits: NASA)

The researchers reason that for life to come about in places not deemed viable by the traditional theories, some type of action needs to be going on. Titan has rainfall and erosion – both caused by liquid movement, exactly the action researches were looking for. The liquid in question is however not water. Ethane and methane rain has brought down hydrogen cyanide that has been found in Titan’s sediment. Although there is water on Titan, it is frozen solid and deep underground.

Once the data from Huygens uncovered these molecules, the researchers designed simulations, hoping that the reactions from these would form the basis of the creation of polyimine polymers. Huygens’ data has shown that polymers such as polyimine has already developed on Titan’s surface.

Once polymers are present, these can result in prebiotic reactions, which in turn leads to a form of life. The simulations done by the team Cornell University showed that not only are such reactions possible, but the structures that came about are able to absorb the wavelengths of the sunlight present on Titan’s surface.

The origin of life question has been around forever. Hydrogen cyanide’s (HCN) chemistry is central to current thinking on the subject. Measurements made by the Huygens probe have shown differences between the surface and the atmosphere of Titan. It is believed that HCN-based polymers have formed on the surface of the moon because of atmospheric chemistry. If this is the case, Titan has been identified as a valuable “natural laboratory”, and can be used for exploring possible non-terrestrial types of prebiotic chemistry.

Polyimine (pI) has been identified as a polymer that is a major component in laboratory experiments involving polymerized HCN. Theoretical calculations have now been used to study the chain conformations of polyimine.

The polymer has a flexible backbone, which makes it possible for it to exist in several different polymorphs. These are relatively close in energy and both the structural and electronic variations amongst them is astounding. Over a 3-eV range, the band gap changes when it moves from a planar sheet-like structure to progressively more coiled conformations.

Titan’s atmosphere has a window of relative transparency and this indicates that pI could be photo-chemically active. If this were the case, it would in turn drive chemistry on the moon’s surface. If catalysis or photochemistry is available to lower reaction barriers sufficiently, the dynamics for removing and adding HCN from pI is plausible.

Speculation suggests that pI’s intra- and intermolecular hydrogen bonds’ directionality may drive the forming of ordered structures, albeit partial. Some of these structures may synergize with photon absorption and act as a catalyst.

The researchers are hoping that their work, and that done by others, will result in the sending of a next probe to Saturn’s moon. They suggest that this probe should have the ability to test for different forms of life. The design of future missions to Titan will be aided by studies on the density and solubility of the pI polymers.

The full study was published in PNAS journal.

  • Valfreyja

    Blah blah blah. Every other goddamn day “TEH LIFEXORZ EXISTAMAFIES ON TEH MOONS”

    No one is allowed to print these clickbait, 1990’s era level SEO “articles” anymore until some nerd produces for us a verifiable case of the space shits.

    • Nickolas Max Crosby

      Very bad reasoning.
      They presented some very interesting information to back up the claim and explained, in depth, why and how that information supported the claim. Then explained how they intend to do use that information, and it’s support, moving forward.
      Solid article.

      • SWR

        Yeah, kind of like “Titan is not in the habitable zone”. Much information, so true!

        Are you retarded?

        • tuh hah miss

          First, using “retarded” as an insult makes you an asshole.

          Second, nowhere does it say that alien life exists there. The article says that our current understanding of the conditions on Titan suggests that the prebiotic chemicals that exist there have the capacity in the right conditions to eventually become biotic.

          Third, this is an article about the results of highly technical research simplified for a general audience, about challenging our current knowledge about the circumstances surrounding life. Be encouraged and learn, not rude and closed-minded.

          • SWR

            Then why did you mention it? How about stop supporting bullshit science articles that give nothing new and are just clickbait? You are part of the fucking problem, moron.

          • Jordan

            You are part of the fucking problem, I bet you make like 60k a year, ugly as fuck, spend your time calling people retards and morons, when in reality you we all pretty much take a giant shit on your life. You are part of the problem you sheep. Go back to being happy fucking your 5/10 looking bitch and driving your 30,000$ car you poor fuck

          • Bob

            You go and call him middle class, that’ll teach him.

          • I make less than that but I enjoyed the article lol I think this has to do more with his generation than his income level, that’s just my opinion though.

          • SWR

            Shut the fuck up, triggered shill. Keep supporting clickbait “WE FOUND LIFE!!!” science articles! Let’s see how far that gets you!

          • lol no man, you are the fucking problem… people like us are generally interested in this kind of information.. we are not waiting for “THE NEXT GREAT BIG THING!!! LIFE ON ANOTHER PLANET HAS BEEN FOUND, OMG REAL SCIENCE IN ACTION, HODORRR”… you stupid fuck, this was interesting, I enjoyed the read and didn’t expect too much from it, why isn’t it click-bait? the website we are on is science news journal, science, news, journal. You stupid fuck… Sorry the universe isn’t as interesting as you want it to be, holy fuck your generation is doomed.


      you are a dumbass

    • Wesley

      Brain Damage.

  • Benice Alway

    Believe it or not, the sum of credible UFO and abduction evidence already suggests it’s extremely likely we have already been visited (declassified documents, radar data, high ranked whistle blowers, physical trace cases, analyzed implants etc.)

    • Skrymir

      Believe it or not, 99% of it is horseshit. It’s people becoming crazy.
      There is better evidence than the accounts of “abducted” ill cretins and what have you.
      You’re not even looking in the right places.

      • Polaris

        And 1% isn’t?

        • Gavin Morris

          I think that’s pretty much it. We shouldn’t deduce that the remainder is ‘ayliuns’ without evidence, though, obviously.

          • Skrymir

            The universe is pretty much an opportunity for species to make forward escapes into some sort of (hyper)spacetime in the future. Obviously you’re gonna meet aliens there, but we’re still stuck in the linear time of whichever complex of physical/gravitational constraints we find ourselves in.
            To me, the most obvious evidence of ayyyliunz is simply the evolution of the human neocortex some several thousands years ago, when we were finally beginning to understand our place in the universe — mostly just by looking looking at the stars while tripping on some good mushrooms gathered from the holy (cow) shit and thinking how fucked up we’re gonna look in the next billion moons of evolution (greys ayy lmao).

        • Skrymir

          The 1% is what little consciousness regarding actual aliens people have on this world — even though the presence of such, the awareness and knowledge regarding them is rather archaic, perhaps as old as the human species’ history itself. When I see shit like this I feel like I, as one person, am still a huge portion of that awareness. Like I’m one of the 12 fucking disciples of something. People just believe in all kinds of pathetic excuses for aliens, while the real ones have been present in the abode of Midgard for millennia, talk of other realms to people who aren’t fully conscious of it, show us their inventions. You just gotta go out and meet them — the problem’s that they’ve now hid in forests, plains and people’s basements (oddly enough).

    • Varuka Salt

      Yeah, right. If aliens visit us and want us to know about it, they will and it won’t be some grainy, shaky, out of focus potato recorded video. It will be as obvious as the sun and moon. Until then, it’s noting but speculation and BS.

      • Skrymir

        Unfortunately you’re very much the victim of that sort of thing, since it is also obvious that you haven’t seen them. You could if you spent but 5 minutes of your time.
        Until then, it’s nothing but pure cynicism and scepticism, friend.

        • Varuka Salt

          Cynicism and skepticism aren’t the same thing. While you’re looking up the definitions of these words, check out the spelling while you’re there.

          • Skrymir

            You know the spelling of words I knew how to spell when I was 5? Amazing. So glad I made that typo and found out how grown-up you are.
            Where did I suggest they have the same meaning, you total cretin?
            Way to omit the whole point and not discuss a single thing (skepticism) except grammar (cynicism). Exactly the type of attitude I wanted to highlight.

  • jerry

    Hydrogen cyanide? Sounds like a lovely place to visit. Wow.

  • MullingItOverAgain

    Everything is possible… just not probable. The more we discover and the more we increase our ability to see into the universe… the probability that we (humans and earth) are completely ALONE continues to increase. But sure, everything is still possible… just not probable.

    • Skrymir

      Nothing short of a miracle would make what’ll manage to survive on our planet stay here forever and not populate other worlds — provided we’re not wiped out by some catastrophic event in the next few billion years (probably at least a few times, since life will continue coming back if the planet is not completely fucked somehow).
      Same applies to any Earth-like planet. There are already several planets with high chances of having biospheres similar to our that we’ve discovered.
      You are a complete nimwit, sorry to say.