‘Strange Life’ on Titan? New organic molecule discovery could mean it’s possible

Titan, as seen in radar images from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, is a complex world with methane/ethane rain, rivers, lakes and seas. Could it support life of some kind? Image Credit: NASA/JPL

Saturn’s largest moon Titan is a bizarre place with a thick and hazy nitrogen atmosphere, vast hydrocarbon dunes and methane/ethane rain, rivers, lakes and seas. It is thought to closely resemble what the early Earth looked like. While it is much colder than any place here, some scientists have considered the possibility that there could some form of primitive life, albeit “strange life,” unlike anything on Earth. Could the lakes and seas, while not water, still support biology? It’s a much-debated question, and now new evidence suggests that may indeed be possible. The organic compound acrylonitrile (vinyl cyanide) has now been detected in Titan’s atmosphere for the first time, which could, theoretically, form cell-like membranes under Titan’s extreme conditions.

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New findings from Curiosity hint ancient Mars lake ‘favourable for different microbial life’

Mudstone lakebed sedimentary deposits seen by the Curiosity rover in Gale crater. The latest findings show that the lake in the crater was stratified and could have supported a wide variety of microorganisms. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Was Mars ever habitable? Did life ever actually exist there? Those are two of the biggest questions for planetary scientists and slowly but surely, we are getting closer to answering them. Well, the first one has been, thanks to the numerous orbiters, landers and rovers which have been sent to the Red Planet over the past few decades. Mars was indeed much more habitable than it is now, in the distant past, although we still don’t know if it was actually inhabited, two different things. Much of the data confirming past habitability has come from the Curiosity rover, which has been exploring an ancient lakebed in Gale crater, and now new findings suggest that this lake offered multiple types of microbe-friendly environments simultaneously. This is good news for the possibility that some form of life, even if just microscopic, did once exist there or perhaps even still does.

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Joint NASA/ESA mission proposed to search for life on Europa

Ocean world: new proposed mission would search for evidence of life in Europa’s subsurface water ocean. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL/Ted Stryk

Europa is one of the most fascinating places in the Solar System, and is considered to be at or near the top of the list of worlds to search for possible evidence of life. Beneath its outer ice crust lies a deep and dark salty ocean, thought to be quite to Earth’s own oceans. Could that ocean be inhabited, even if just by microbes? Scientists want to know, and now a new proposal calls for a joint orbiter/lander mission between NASA and ESA (European Space Agency), to try to answer that question.

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Nearby ‘super-Earth’ exoplanet may be best place yet to search for alien life

Artist’s conception of the exoplanet LHS 1140b. Image Credit: ESO

Just recently, an exo-planetary system called TRAPPIST-1, with seven known planets close in size to Earth, was announced by astronomers. Some of those planets are in the star’s habitable zone, meaning that they could potentially be habitable for some kind of life. Then, another Earth-sized world was found orbiting the star GJ 1132b, and may have water and methane in its atmosphere. Now, another similar planet has been found orbiting another nearby star. It is also close in size to Earth and resides in the star’s habitable zone. According to scientists, it is another prime candidate in the search for alien life and may even be the best one yet.

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