Feeds

Boffins mull life on Titan

Organic snacks for Titanic microbes

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup

A group of researchers has proposed a mechanism that could explain the presence of so much methane on Titan - life. The moon's atmosphere is around five per cent methane, and NASA researcher Chris McKay speculates that some of it could be being generated by hydrogen-breathing microbes.

If life does exist on the Saturnian moon, the evidence might have been recorded by the Huygens probe when it landed on Titan on 14 January. The key lies in the likely diet and respiratory habits of the hypothetical microbes, according to New Scientist.

McKay, along with Heather Smith from the International Space University in Strasbourg, thinks that the microbes would breath hydrogen, rather than oxygen, and this could reveal them. If they actually exist.

McKay and Smith estimate that just by breathing the microbes would dramatically deplete the amount of hydrogen available in their immediate environment, reducing it to just one-thousandth of that in the rest of the atmosphere. If the Huygens probe recorded a drop like this, it would be good evidence for some kind of biological process, McKay and Smith argue.

Alternatively, a drop in the amount of acetylene might be enough to give them away. Smith and McKay proposes that the Titanic bugs would eat organic molecules drifting down from the upper atmosphere, either acetylene, ethane or a group of more complex molecules, called tholins. Acetylene is the most calorific of the three, and so is the most likely candidate.

The data they need to test their idea was captured by Huygens' Gas Chromatograph and Mass Spectrometer (GCMS). This is a gas chemical analyser designed to identify and quantify the components of Titan's atmosphere. Hasso Niemann principal investigator of the GCMS says that they hope to at least have numbers for the upper limits of hydrogen.

The paper is to be published in the journal Icarus. ®

Related stories

Cassini films Hyperion in orbit
Is that a lake on Titan?
Scientists reveal Titanic panorama

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
Boffins attempt to prove the UNIVERSE IS JUST A HOLOGRAM
Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?
Our LOHAN spaceplane ballocket Kickstarter climbs through £8000
Through 25 per cent but more is needed: Get your UNIQUE rewards!
Software bug caught Galileo sats in landslide, no escape from reality
Life had just begun, code error means Russia's gone and thrown it all away
LOHAN tunes into ultra long range radio
And verily, Vultures shall speak status unto distant receivers
SpaceX prototype rocket EXPLODES over Texas. 'Tricky' biz, says Elon Musk
No injuries or near injuries. Flight stayed in designated area
Galileo, Galileo! Galileo, Galileo! Galileo fit to go. Magnifico
I'm just a poor boy, nobody loves me. But at least I can find my way with ESA GPS by 2017
EOS, Lockheed to track space junk from Oz
WA facility gets laser-eyes out of the fog
prev story

Whitepapers

Gartner critical capabilities for enterprise endpoint backup
Learn why inSync received the highest overall rating from Druva and is the top choice for the mobile workforce.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Rethinking backup and recovery in the modern data center
Combining intelligence, operational analytics, and automation to enable efficient, data-driven IT organizations using the HP ABR approach.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.