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Saturn's largest moon, Titan, is a hotbed of organic molecules, harboring a soup of complex hydrocarbons similar to that thought to have existed over four billion years ago on the primordial Earth. Titan's surface, however, is in a deep freeze at –179 degrees Celsius (–290 degrees Fahrenheit, or 94 kelvin). Life as we know it cannot exist on the moon's frigid surface.
Deep underground, however, is a different matter. Gravity measurements made during fly-bys by NASA's Cassini spacecraft revealed that Titan contains an ocean beneath its ice shell, and within this ocean, conditions are potentially suitable for life.
Team - Researchers - NASA - Jet - Propulsion
An NAI-funded team led by researchers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory is seeking to better understand the potential for life in Titan's ocean, and its possible relationship with the organic molecules in the moon's atmosphere and on its surface. Titan's rich diversity of organic molecules is a product of ultraviolet light from the Sun initiating chemical reactions with the dominant gases in Titan's atmosphere—hydrogen, methane and nitrogen. The resulting complex hydrocarbons could be the building blocks of life, or provide chemical nutrients for life, and within its ocean Titan harbors a potential habitat for that life.
Led by JPL's Rosaly Lopes, the NAI team's four key objectives are to determine how these organic molecules are transported between the atmosphere, the surface and the ocean, what processes then occur within the ocean to make it habitable, what biosignatures the ocean life then produces, and finally how those biosignatures are then transported back to the surface, where they could be detected.
Project - NAI - Years - April - Pathways
The project, which has been funded by the NAI for five years until April 2023, is organized around the pathways that organic molecules and biosignatures take through the atmosphere and the ice shell surrounding the ocean.
The team currently has 30 members spread across a number of institutions....
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