Subscribe free to our newsletters via your
. 24/7 Space News .




EXO LIFE
Did Life Fall from the Skies? Lessons from Titan
by Dauna Coulter
Science@NASA
Huntsville AL (SPX) Dec 31, 2010


"When I came back and looked at the screen, I thought: That can't be right," said Sarah Horst.

In sci-fi movies, the first stirrings of life happen in a gooey pool of primordial ooze. But new research suggests the action started instead in the stormy skies above.

The idea sprang from research led by University of Arizona's Sarah Horst. Her team recreated, in the lab, chemical reactions transpiring above Saturn's largest moon, Titan.

"We're finding that the kind of chemistry an atmosphere can do has intriguing implications for life on Earth and elsewhere in the solar system," says Horst. "Titan's skies might do some interesting chemistry - manufacture the building blocks of life."

Horst and her colleagues mixed up a brew of molecules (carbon monoxide(1), molecular nitrogen and methane) found in Titan's atmosphere. Then they zapped the concoction with radio waves - a proxy for the sun's radiation.

What happened next didn't make the scientists shout "it's alive!" but it was intriguing. A rich array of complex molecules emerged, including amino acids and nucleotides.

"Our experiment is the first proof that you can make the precursors for life up in an atmosphere, without any liquid water(2). This means life's building blocks could form in the air and then rain down from the skies!"

Titan is unique in our solar system. Dotted with lakes and dunes and shrouded in a thick atmosphere of nitrogen and methane, it's a frozen time capsule of early Earth. While the liquid on Titan's surface is methane instead of water, it's the only body in the solar system other than Earth with liquid on its surface.

"We didn't start out to prove we could make 'life' in Titan's skies," explains Horst. "We were trying to solve a mystery. The Cassini spacecraft detected large molecules(3) in Titan's atmosphere, and we wanted to find out what they could be."

In hopes of obtaining clues to the mystery molecules, Horst used computer codes to search the lab results for matches to known molecular formulas. She decided, on a whim, to look for nucleotides and amino acids.

"When I pressed the enter key, I expected a big 'nope, not there.'"

She left for a break, and got a big surprise upon returning.

"The computer was printing out such long lists I thought I must have made a mistake!"

But there was no mistake.

"We had about 5000 molecules containing the right stuff: carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen, and oxygen. We knew we had the elements for organic molecules, but we couldn't tell how they were arranged. It's kind of like legos - the more there are, the more possible structures can be made. And they can be put together in many different ways."

Among the structures identified in the lab experiment so far are five nucleotides found in DNA and RNA, and two amino acids. But she says there could be more amino acids in the mix.

How could Titan's atmosphere generate them?

The answer lies in another Cassini discovery: plumes of water blasting from Titan's sister moon Enceladus. The researchers have good proof that these geysers are the source of oxygen required to kick off the first chain reactions required for life.

"Water spewing across from the plumes gets broken up, releasing hydrogen and oxygen. And the amount of oxygen entering Titan's atmosphere from outside is precisely the quantity needed to make the amount of carbon monoxide detected in that atmosphere."

Then, other chemical reactions(4) occur, producing the heavier molecules Cassini detected. If the lab results are correct, amino acids and nucleotides are in the mix.

"We still don't know for sure what the actual molecules are in Titan's atmosphere," says Horst, "but there's a distinct possibility that life's precursors are raining down on the surface of Titan."

Picture it: One moon spraying another moon with water to generate the building blocks of life, which fall to the surface in a storm of methane rain.

Real life may be stranger than science fiction, after all.

.


Related Links
University of Arizona
Life Beyond Earth
Lands Beyond Beyond - extra solar planets - news and science






Comment on this article via your Facebook, Yahoo, AOL, Hotmail login.

Share this article via these popular social media networks
del.icio.usdel.icio.us DiggDigg RedditReddit GoogleGoogle




Memory Foam Mattress Review
Newsletters :: SpaceDaily :: SpaceWar :: TerraDaily :: Energy Daily
XML Feeds :: Space News :: Earth News :: War News :: Solar Energy News





EXO LIFE
Astrobiology Top 10: Viking Results Revisited
Moffett Field CA (SPX) Dec 29, 2010
Experiments prompted by a 2008 surprise from NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander suggest that soil examined by NASA's Viking Mars landers in 1976 may have contained carbon-based chemical building blocks of life. "This doesn't say anything about the question of whether or not life has existed on Mars, but it could make a big difference in how we look for evidence to answer that question," said Chris ... read more


EXO LIFE
NASA's LRO Creating Unprecedented Topographic Map Of Moon

Apollo 8: Christmas At The Moon

NASA Awards First Half-Million Order In Lunar Data Contract

Total Lunar Eclipse: 'Up All Night' With NASA

EXO LIFE
Astrobiology Top 10: Trapped Rover Finds Evidence Of Water On Mars

NASA Spacecraft Provides Travel Tips For Mars Rover

NASA's Next Mars Rover to Zap Rocks With Laser

Opportunity Studying A Football-Field Size Crater

EXO LIFE
Astronaut sues over use of historic photo

NASA mulls merging operational divisions

Argentina to record UFO sightings

IBM offers glimpse into the future

EXO LIFE
China Builds Theme Park In Spaceport

Tiangong Space Station Plans Progessing

China-Made Satellite Keeps Remote Areas In Venezuela Connected

Optis Software To Optimize Chinese Satellite Design

EXO LIFE
Extension of space station support fails

Paolo Nespoli Arrives At ISS

Dextre's Final Exam Scheduled For December 22-23

Russian rocket docks with space station

EXO LIFE
ILS and Satmex Announce The ILS Proton Launch Of Satmex 8

Ariane 5's Sixth Launch Of 2010

Europe launcher puts Spanish, S.Korean satellites into orbit

Arianespace Flight 199: Launch Postponed 24 Hours

EXO LIFE
The Final Frontier

First Super-Earth Atmosphere Analyzed

Citizen Scientists Join Search For Earth-Like Planets

Qatar-Led International Team Finds Its First Alien World

EXO LIFE
Bob Benson: Tales Of Chilly Research

HISPASAT Satellite Successfully Performs Post-Launch Maneuvers

Skype brings video calls to iPhone, iPod, iPad

Tablets galore on tap at major CES gadget fest




The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2014 - Space Media Network. AFP, UPI and IANS news wire stories are copyright Agence France-Presse, United Press International and Indo-Asia News Service. ESA Portal Reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. Advertising does not imply endorsement,agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. Privacy Statement