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Titan's atmosphere is ideal for creating life

Illustration for article titled Titans atmosphere is ideal for creating life

Evidence of life on Saturn's moon Titan just keeps piling up, and now we can add experimental proof to the list. Recreating the satellite's nitrogen-rich atmosphere and bombarding it with UV rays produces the organic molecules that lead to life.


We know that Titan's atmosphere is primarily composed of nitrogen and methane gas, and data from the Cassini probe has shown the moon is covered in constant, extreme UV radiation. A pair of researchers at the University of Arizona replicated these atmospheric conditions by placing nitrogen and methane in a stainless steel container, then subjecting it to constant UV rays.

The nitrogen gas behaved just as hoped, generally moving directly to solid, nitrogen-containing organic molecules. These molecules are the precursors of life, and there's good reason to think the scientists replicated not just the atmosphere of Titan, but also the conditions of the primordial Earth. (And we all know how that turned out on the whole life front.) This obviously doesn't prove there's life on Titan, but it's a good indicator that organic molecules are being created in the moon's atmosphere that would greatly increase the chance of life developing. For more information on this research, including the comically insane lengths the researchers had to go to in setting up what sounds like a very simple experiment, check out the University of Arizona's report.


Image by David Jackson

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How does Titan get "constant UV radiation"? Is there a weird rotational cycle that keeps a chunk of it constantly facing the Sun, and that chunk is what we're talking about when we say "Constant UV radiation"? Is there another source of UV radiation out there like sunlight bouncing off of Saturn? Is it kinda a hyperbolic statement meant to imply that there's a lot of UV exposure on Titan's surface?