Feeds

Boffins mull life on Titan

Organic snacks for Titanic microbes

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

High performance access to file storage

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

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
Elon Musk's LEAKY THRUSTER gas stalls Space Station supply run
Helium seeps from Falcon 9 first stage, delays new legs for NASA robonaut
Solar-powered aircraft unveiled for round-the-world flight
It's going to be a slow and sleepy flight for the pilots
Russian deputy PM: 'We are coming to the Moon FOREVER'
Plans to annex Earth's satellite with permanent base by 2030
KILLER SPONGES menacing California coastline
Surfers are safe, crustaceans less so
LOHAN's Punch and Judy show relaunches Thursday
Weather looking good for second pop at test flights
New FEMTO-MOON sighted BIRTHING from Saturn's RING
Icy 'Peggy' looks to be leaving the outer rings
Discovery time for 200m WONDER MATERIALS shaved from 4 MILLENNIA... to 4 years
Alloy, Alloy: Boffins in speed-classification breakthrough
Curiosity finds not-very-Australian-shaped rock on Mars
File under 'messianic pastries' and move on, people
Top Secret US payload launched into space successfully
Clandestine NRO spacecraft sets off on its unknown mission
prev story

Whitepapers

Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
HP ArcSight ESM solution helps Finansbank
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Mobile application security study
Download this report to see the alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, as well as the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.