Feeds

Boffins mull life on Titan

Organic snacks for Titanic microbes

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Security for virtualized datacentres

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

Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile

More from The Register

next story
MEN: For pity's sake SLEEP with LOTS of WOMEN - and avoid Prostate Cancer
And, um, don't sleep with other men. If that's what worries you
Voyager 1 now EIGHTEEN LIGHT HOURS from home
Almost 20 BEEELION kilometres from Sol
HUGE SHARK as big as a WWII SUBMARINE died out, allowing whales to exist
Who'd win a fight: Megalodon or a German battleship?
Jim Beam me up, Scotty! WHISKY from SPAAACE returns to Earth
They're insured for $1m, before you thirsty folks make plans
ROGUE SAIL BOAT blocks SPACE STATION PODULE blastoff
Er, we think our ISS launch beats your fishing expedition
Comet Siding Spring revealed as flying molehill
Hiding from this space pimple isn't going to do humanity's reputation any good
BAE points electromagnetic projectile at US Army
Railguns for 'Future fighting vehicle'
LONG ARM of the SAUR: Brachially gifted dino bone conundrum solved
Deinocheirus mirificus was a bit of a knuckle dragger
prev story

Whitepapers

Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
New hybrid storage solutions
Tackling data challenges through emerging hybrid storage solutions that enable optimum database performance whilst managing costs and increasingly large data stores.
Website security in corporate America
Find out how you rank among other IT managers testing your website's vulnerabilities.