Methane-Based Life Thriving In Space? Scientists Say Oxygen-Free Life Possible On Saturn’s Moon, Titan

Life on Saturn's Moon Titan

A team of scientists believe that “life not as we know it” may be thriving on Saturn’s moon, Titan, and claim to have a solid model of the oxygen-free life form. The methane-based life forms would be able to survive in the oxygen-free environments of Titan and may be found swimming in the vast methane oceans.

Wall Street OTC reports that a team of researchers from Cornell University believe life may exist on Saturn’s moon, Titan, in a form which we have never seen before. The methane oceans could potentially harbor life that is “not as we know it.” The life would be methane-based and have the ability to thrive in environments that are deprived of oxygen. The researchers, including James Stevenson, say they have a “solid model” of the organism and say that its makeup would allow it to live in the typically harsh conditions of Titan.

The researchers point out that Titan is not considered a “habitable zone” as we know it, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t “life not as we know it.” In fact, as PhysOrg points out, the cell membranes described by the team of Cornell researchers may thrive in a number of different space settings as the organisms do not need oxygen to survive.

“Their theorized cell membrane, composed of small organic nitrogen compounds and capable of functioning in liquid methane temperatures of 292 degrees below zero, is published in Science Advances, Feb. 27.”

The project came about after Jonathan Lunine, director for Cornell’s Center for Radiophysics and Space Research, received grant money for research regarding non-aqueous life. After receiving the money, Lunine teamed up not with other space researchers, but instead a group of chemical molecular specialists. Together, they worked out the details of a methane-based life form. In fact, the group notes that the fact that the researchers were not astronomers may have helped with the overall approach to the topic as they had no preconceptions about the project.

“We’re not biologists, and we’re not astronomers, but we had the right tools,” Clancy said. “Perhaps it helped, because we didn’t come in with any preconceptions about what should be in a membrane and what shouldn’t. We just worked with the compounds that we knew were there and asked, ‘If this was your palette, what can you make out of that?'”

What do you think of the idea of “life not as we know it”? Do you think astronomers and researchers are more likely to find life similar to that of earth or more unique life forms, such as methane-based life, first?

[Image Credit: NASA/JPL]