Continuing with this week’s Saturnine theme, the chemical “letters” used to write the basic code for life on Earth might exist on Saturn’s largest moon, according to new research presented earlier this month. The findings suggest the building blocks of life on Earth may have originated in the air, not only in primordial “soup” on land.
Based on lab experiments, scientists concluded it’s possible the thick atmospheric haze on Titan contains the five so-called nucleotide bases used in DNA and RNA, as well as some simple amino acids—the building blocks of proteins.
That’s not to say Titan is any more likely to host birds, fish, or even microbes like those on Earth, emphasized study co-author Sarah Hörst, a graduate student at the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory.
“If there’s life on Titan, it probably—for a lot of different reasons—would not use the molecules that life on Earth uses,” she told National Geographic News. For starters, Titan is much colder—an average of -180 degrees Celsius.
“Also, life on Earth is based on water, and there’s no liquid water on Titan’s surface available for life.” Though Titan has lakes, they’re believed to be filled with liquid methane.
Instead, Hörst and colleagues think their results might mean that earthly life arose in part from atmospheric components, suggesting the popular idea of a primordial soup on Earth’s early surface might be joined by an image of a primordial haze in the sky (a purple haze, if you will…)
“One of the reasons we think this is exciting is that Titan’s atmosphere gives us a window into what kinds of molecules a similar atmosphere is capable of producing,” Hörst said.
“With Titan, we can study the process, because it’s ongoing right now. But there’s lots of evidence now that early Earth might have had a Titan-like haze, and there’s probably a lot of exoplanets that have similar chemistry going on.”
Full article is here.