Ingredients for life in Titan’s atmosphere?

There have been some interesting findings from a research team led by the University of Arizona, indicating that amino acids and other complex building blocks of life may be present in Titan’s atmosphere, and that the processes involved can occur in the upper atmosphere of a planet or moon, without the need for liquid water as has long been presumed.

Simulations of Titan’s atmosphere, subjected to UV radiation (like from the sun, as happens in the upper Titanian atmosphere) produced complex organic molecules such as amino acids and nucleotide bases, the primary building blocks of life on Earth. The Cassini spacecraft has already confirmed organic molecules there, but there are some more complex ones in the atmosphere which haven’t been identified yet.

As has been reported previously, there has has been a growing interest lately in the possibility of primitive life on Titan, despite the very cold temperatures, given the hydrological cycle of rain, rivers, lakes and seas, but with liquid methane instead of water. If prebiological molecules are being massively produced, as seems to be the case, could anything be alive in those alien lakes and seas…?

More information here, here, and here.

A “Perrier ocean” on Enceladus?

A new study suggests that the water-ice geysers on Saturn’s moon Enceladus originate from a bubbly, salty subsurface sea or ocean, a variation of previous theories.

New image of the plumes, released October 1, 2010. Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

From the article:

“Matson and his colleagues came up with a computer model that accommodates much of what is known about the geysers of Enceladus. Their findings support the supposition that a salty sea flows under the moon’s surface.

This ocean has gases dissolved in it, the theory goes. As the seawater flows up to and through the tiger stripe fissures, its pressure drops and the gases bubble up, Matson said — making the ocean fizzy, like Perrier. The relatively warm water and expanding gas feed the jets.

When the bubbles pop, they throw off a fine spray that contains salt and other materials, which Cassini spotted in Enceladus’ plumes. Then the seawater, having dumped much of its warmth on the moon’s surface ice, cools and sinks back through cracks, rejoining the ocean and its heat-transferring circulation system.”

Perrier, anyone?