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2017-07-28. Could a Newfound Molecule on Titan Be a Building Block for Life?

posted Aug 5, 2017, 9:23 PM by Alan Gould
By JoAnna Wendel, Earth & Space Science News Eos/AGU. For GSS A Changing Cosmos chapter 7. Excerpt: The discovery of vinyl cyanide in the atmosphere of Saturn’s moon Titan has huge implications for life—but not as we know it. In the game of habitability, only a small fraction of celestial bodies in our solar system competes for the title “most compelling.” There’s Saturn’s moon Enceladus with its watery jets and internal ocean, Jupiter’s moon Europa with another internal ocean, and even our rocky neighbor Mars with its icy poles and occasional water flows. But Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, hiding under a haze of smog, just upped the ante. Researchers found a molecule called vinyl cyanide (C2H3CN) in Titan’s atmosphere. A collection of these molecules, should they rain down into Titan’s methane lakes, could link up to form membranous structures like the squishy walls of our cells, they say. “Detecting this molecule in the atmosphere suggests that there should be a bunch of it available in [Titan’s] lakes,” said Maureen Palmer, a researcher at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and lead author on a new paper published today in Science Advances. Moreover, because this molecule exists in the atmosphere, “maybe there’s a higher chance of these membranes actually forming” in Titan’s polar lakes and seas.... https://eos.org/articles/could-a-newfound-molecule-on-titan-be-a-building-block-for-life