Science, Space

Life Takes A Different Turn On Titan

At minus 290 Fahrenheit, Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, is way too cold to support life as we know it, life that’s based on water, and breathes oxygen.

In this environment, an organism’s entire cell would freeze solid—everything from the gelatinous solution inside it called “cytoplasm” to the tiny organelles that float in it to the thin membrane (made of chemical compounds, known as phospholipids) that holds it all together.

So, for life to exist on Titan, its raw material would have to be radically different. And researchers have found one such substance.

Acrylonitrile, a hydrocarbon believed to form in Titan’s atmosphere, has properties similar to our phospholipids.

It can form hollow balls, known as “azotosomes,” which behave, even in the cold, in much the same way that little sacks made of Earth-based phospholipids called “liposomes” do. It can stretch and twist and turn into many different shapes, creating a barrier between the inside and the outside of the vesicles.

It’s these that could be the building blocks of alien life in the hydrocarbon lakes of Titan.



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