Titan is one of the solar system’s most promising locations when it comes to hosting alien life.
Saturn’s moon is covered with gigantic lakes of liquid methane and astronomers are desperate to learn more about them.
Researchers at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) now believe that organic minerals from Titan’s atmosphere (yes, a moon with an atmosphere) may be forming into crystals around these lakes.
The minerals are acetylene, butane and a third which is a combination of the two. While acetylene and butane exist on Earth, they’re both gases. On Titan, the freezing temperatures causes them to crystallise when they fall to the surface.
Moreover, when the team at JPL reconstructed Titan’s makeup in a lab, they found that the conditions cause the compounds to solidify into a type of co-crystal that’s not found on Earth.
The team basically had to use liquid nitrogen to get to a temperature cold enough to mimic what Titan is like.
‘The co-crystal forms within minutes at 130 kelvin, and is stable when cooled to Titan surface temperatures (90 kelvin),’ the researchers explained.
‘A thermal stability study indicates that this co-crystal remains intact up to 180 K.’
Why is this important? Because scientists want to understand the surface of Titan in as much detail as possible before we go and visit it to search for life.
Titan, nearly a billion miles from the Sun and a little larger than the Earth’s own moon, is mostly frozen. It only receives about 1 percent of the sunlight that Earth gets. As a result, it is unimaginably frigid.
At minus 180 Centigrade its water ice is rock solid, at least on the surface. But as well as the surface-level methane lakes, there may also be subsurface oceans of salty water. If that’s true, then there’s always a possibility that life may have developed in these alien conditions.
Nasa is currently believed to be working on a mission to send a probe to Titan to follow up on information gathered by the Cassini mission that ran until 2017.
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