Life on Titan – The Moon on Planet Saturn

Highlights 

  • Titans – Largest moon on Planet Saturn does not support Cell Membrane Living 
  • The research paper is published in the Journal of Science Advances. 

The researchers from Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, appended the research on the possibility of life on Titan. The largest present moon on planet Saturn. The outcomes are based on quantum mechanical calculations in which they have shown the alternative for cell membranes as azotosomes which cannot be formed in the existing conditions of the Titan. 

The natural conditions on Titan prevalent are vigorous surface, frequent rainfall, lakes, and seas at the polar region with the dense nitrogen-rich atmosphere. These are quite a few similarities to planet earth which made scientists believe about the possibilities of life on Titan as well. But the liquid present on Titan is not water but methane and ethane. And, the surface temperature is around minus 180 degrees. In such pyrexia, the lipid membrane required for life cannot sustain. 

So to overcome this constraint, the researchers have found an alternative to withstand these temperatures called – “Azotosome”. The idea of Azotosomes has gained momentum in the field of astrobiology as it was computationally proved that they can survive extreme conditions as it is a form of organic compound acrylonitrile. Martin Rahm, Assistant Professor at the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at the Chalmers University of Technology, says, “Titan is a fascinating place to test our understanding of the limits of prebiotic chemistry – the chemistry that precedes life. What chemical, or possibly biological, structures might form, given enough time under such different conditions? The suggestion of azotosomes was a really interesting proposal for an alternative to cell membranes as we understand them.” But to the surprise, the azotosomes could not be formed on Titan.

The various comparisons between proposed azotosome membrane embedded in methane and the molecular crystal form of acrylonitrile – its molecular ice were done and the results were that each building blocks added to the azotosome increased its energy significantly, making its formation progressively less likely thermodynamically. Therefore, azotosomes could survive on Titan but are unable to self assemble under such conditions. Besides, the acrylonitrile converts into its molecular ice.

However the results are not as desired, this study is highly important for ongoing research and carrying out inferences. 

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