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Could There Be Life On Titan?

Soulskill posted more than 6 years ago | from the reply-hazy-try-again dept.

Space 122

Adam Korbitz writes "Astrobiology Magazine reports on new research indicating extremophile microbes may be able to live on Titan, the sixth and largest moon of Saturn — in spite of the fact that the moon is largely ice and covered with lakes of liquid methane. Titan joins Mars, Venus, Europa and Enceladus as a potential home to extremophile life in our solar system."

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Joins? (4, Interesting)

Henriok (6762) | more than 6 years ago | (#24725873)

Titan has been a prime candidate for life for as long as I can remember. Since they figured out that it had an atmosphere, it probably had lakes of some kinde and pretro.. possibility for life.

Re:Joins? (4, Insightful)

Rob Kaper (5960) | more than 6 years ago | (#24725917)

TFA is not about Titan being a candidate, but some research trying to recreate (some) of the conditions on Titan.

Of course TFA also is a long, long way away from life. But knowing the building blocks can form there is another step forward.

Re:Joins? (4, Informative)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 6 years ago | (#24727173)

I don't think anyone is arguing that Titan doesn't have the building blocks (by all accounts its atmosphere is probably pretty damned similar to the reducing atmosphere that the early Earth had). The problem is energy. Titan only receives a fraction of the energy that Earth does, and that's why it's in a deep freeze. It's hard to imagine at any point in the evolution of the solar system when Titan would have had, for any substantial amount of time, that much energy from either the sun or Saturn.

The fact that some highly specialized terrestial organisms might be able to make a go of it doesn't, in my mind, suggest that similar organisms could have ever evolved on Titan. These organisms have had nearly four billion years to slowly march into extreme environments. I simply don't think Titan would have ever have been in a similar situation.

I think our best bets for the moment are still Mars and Europa. Mars, because it does lie close enough to the sun and there is evidence that liquid water was once common. Europa because, while it's significantly farther from the sun, is in a rather special situation where Jovian tidal forces are quite likely keep the interior very warm, meaning liquid oceans, and possibly an active core.

Re:Joins? (1)

drewzhrodague (606182) | more than 6 years ago | (#24727689)

Probably not evolved there, but it might be a good habitat where something can thrive. I'd imagine that they would have to be pretty efficient to deal with an environment with a low energy state (as you point out). I imagine that a lifeform such as that may be useful here on earth.

Re:Joins? (3, Insightful)

SEE (7681) | more than 6 years ago | (#24729467)

Thing is, life on Titan doesn't need to evolve on Titan . . . it just needs to survive the journey to Titan from where it evolved. Endospores are quite durable.

Re:Joins? (1)

Gavagai80 (1275204) | more than 6 years ago | (#24730037)

Hitching a ride from Mars to Earth isn't too hard. From Earth to Titan is essentially impossible... not only is it many times further, but anything making it to Saturn would be sucked into Saturn's gravity well, not Titan's.

Re:Joins? (2)

repvik (96666) | more than 6 years ago | (#24730133)

Being sucked into Saturn's gravity well doesn't make it impossible to land on Titan. Titan just might happen to be in the way ;)
Likely? Slightly more than a snowball in hell. Impossible? In theory atleast ;)

Re:Joins? (2, Informative)

SEE (7681) | more than 6 years ago | (#24732427)

Assuming the reasonable (if not proven) ideas that life on Earth began before the Late Heavy Bombardment, and that the Late Heavy Bombardment happened, there should have been lots of bacteria-infested ejecta from the Earth spreading throughout the solar system. Enough that some landing on Titan is perhaps not probable, but is much more likely than "essentially impossible". (One hundred miles per hour average speed, and you get from Earth to Titan in a mere 1,000 years; the distance, at least, is not a problem.)

Re:Joins? (2, Insightful)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 6 years ago | (#24730553)

Titan is only about five percent farther away from Saturn than Europa is from Jupiter. Europa has a special resonance setup with Io and Ganymede but Titan also has some fair sized moons and a big planet to pull on it.

There's a quite reasonable theory that life on Earth could have originated with organic molecules brought into close contact in ice. The article describes research that shows some of the probable constituents of Titan's atmosphere undergo promising chemical processes even around the freezing point, and liquid water is believed to flow out of the interior of Titan, even today.

There are also other sources of energy. We have life right here that derives its energy purely from chemical reactions and Titan is a big chemical sea. The reactions (and the life) might happen very slowly, but it could happen.

Since there are at least three or four good theories about how life might have originated on Earth (if it did), it seems a little premature to suggest that life needs a certain amount of energy, of a certain kind.

Re:Joins? (1)

davolfman (1245316) | more than 6 years ago | (#24733053)

Exactly. The selection pressure may be much too high to develop life in the first place.

Re:Joins? (1)

Max Littlemore (1001285) | more than 6 years ago | (#24733707)

I think our best bets for the moment are still Mars and Europa.

You're right.

In fact Mars is teaming with life, including large amounts of the red weed which gives Mars it's distinctive appearance. Europa also supports life, but seeing as all these worlds are ours except Europa, I don't think we should attempt landing there.

Re:Joins? (5, Interesting)

Z00L00K (682162) | more than 6 years ago | (#24725935)

Considering the vast variety of conditions where life exists on earth I would consider it likely that there is life elsewhere too.

And with life - it may be completely different from the life we know about, but if there is life it is single-cell organisms that we should expect.

Even here on earth we have bacteria that actually thrives in environments that would kill most other forms of life. All the way from extremely acid environment that easily would tear through human flesh to high temperatures well above the boiling point and radiation so hard that it cracks the DNA in the cells - which the bacteria resolves by joining it together again with processes still unknown. And freezing bacteria will just suspend them or make them behave in slow motion.

In any atmosphere where there is complex molecules - especially amino acids - there is a potential for life remotely similar to us on a cellular level. But of course - there may be life in completely different forms with completely different timespans, maybe so long that we wouldn't recognize it as life.

Re:Joins? (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24726053)

We know there are certain types of bacteria that can exist in extreme conditions on earth, but to my (untrained) mind that doesn't imply it is possible for abiogenesis to occur in the same conditions.

What does it take for life to come about from non-life. Do we have an idea?

Re:Joins? (5, Insightful)

Hurricane78 (562437) | more than 6 years ago | (#24726225)

What does it take for life to come about from non-life. Do we have an idea?

The error - and even most scientists have not understood this - is, to make a spearation between the two.
There is no single moment, where something became "alive".

It's a veeery gradual process, starting with the simples physical/chemical reactions, and evolving to more complex systems.
Even we ourselves are such very complex systems.

See... I do not even have to mention the word "life".
It's just another one of those egocentric concepts, like seeing humans as separate from animals, thinking we were the center of the universe... and so on....
So the problem is purely psychological.

This is the only reason, such an obvious concept is still mostly repressed.

Re:Joins? (1)

Hurricane78 (562437) | more than 6 years ago | (#24726289)

Sorry for my typos. I meant "separation". Obviously scientists and geeks do not "spear" life or non-life. Conan does!

And "simplest" instead of "simples". Obviously I do not know a funny line for this one. Conan does! (The other one.)

(No, I won't point out every punctuation error. You know who to ask... Stars with C...)

Re:Joins? (5, Insightful)

Neuropol (665537) | more than 6 years ago | (#24726365)

IAWTP 100%

Egocentric mankind (generally speaking, science community excluded) thinks life means Youtube, Social Networking, Church, and High End Tennis shoes.

I really wish children were taught an early age about the Universe and the life breeding ground that it is. Different conditions produce different forms, it is now up to mankind to acknowledge and accept this.

Re:Joins? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24726729)

The error - and even most scientists have not understood this - is, to make a spearation between the two. There is no single moment, where something became "alive".

One criteria might be the ability to reproduce.

Very simple "lifeforms" can be self-reproducing, e.g. one with only 54 base pairs [ucr.edu] , but only if they are parasitic. Such "lifeforms" exploit the complex and sophisticated DNA machinery of the host to accomplish reproduction. The host had to exist first.

However, the simplest known lifeform that can reproduce independently is the Mycoplasma genitalium bacteria [wikipedia.org] , with 582970 base pairs! This probably isn't the simplest one that can theoretically exist - it is hard to imagine the right combination out of 4^582970 appearing at random in the pre-life organic soup - but whatever simpler thing existed before it is a mystery, as well as why none of the simpler forms still exist today (if that is the case).

(Posting AC because credit belongs here [slashdot.org] .)

Re:Joins? (3, Interesting)

QuoteMstr (55051) | more than 6 years ago | (#24727819)

Abiogensis is fascinating. I hope to live one day to see life created from scratch. Right now, the best we have is interesting speculation.

One workable hypothesis for the natural origin of life is the RNA World Hypothesis [wikipedia.org] . Another is the Iron-Sulfer World Theory [wikipedia.org] .

Re:Joins? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24728635)

Abiogensis is fascinating. I hope to live one day to see life created from scratch. Right now, the best we have is interesting speculation.

One workable hypothesis for the natural origin of life is the RNA World Hypothesis [wikipedia.org] . Another is the Iron-Sulfer World Theory [wikipedia.org] .

Well as creating life from scratch, I'd have to say I'm pretty happy my parents went with the "shake and bake" method, though I do find it very creepy calling it that... Oh well

Re:Joins? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24728187)

I think you're mostly wrong.
Yes, the evolution of life and intelligence are changes, but not smooth changes. Trends in evolution are exponential.
The basis for life started as amino acids, and they jumbled around to eventually form things that could self replicate: life. It took a few billion years to get to that point, so obviously a lot happened in between, but thinking about it as LIFE and NOT LIFE isn't harmful because once life (self replication) occurred, it greatly enhanced the speed and precision of change. Cells took billions of years, multicellular organisms took , marking a clear point between life and not. The knee in the exponential curve.
(Even with my disagreement with your point, I think that is an interesting way to consider life. Regarding it in black and white implies a moment of conception where as gradients denotes the simple fact that it wasn't a moment.)

Re:Joins? (1)

hjrnunes (1135957) | more than 6 years ago | (#24729141)

I tend to disagree with you though. You chose self-replication as the definition of Life. Of all the definitions, it is the one I find best. But, in fact, GP's right. It is basically just systems evolving into different systems, some more complex, others more simple. Life could well be just our noun for extremely complex (all self-replicant in this planet...) systems. But the fact is that we don't have the slightest clue of what extraterrestrial life looks like. We don't even know if it replicates itself... Aside from carbon based, DNA coded systems we know nothing...

I do believe, though, that we will be able to create life. Maybe just not as we envision or define it. And I think computers and AI - namely Artificial Life ;) - are the way to it. All we need is hard work, smart thoughts and a bit of luck...

Re:Joins? (1)

lysergic.acid (845423) | more than 6 years ago | (#24733493)

so why not just call chemistry physics? after all, chemistry is just the result of particle physics (electromagnetism, strong force, weak force, etc.). heck, why bother making any distinction between different empirical sciences at all? it's all just part of the study of the same natural universe.

the nature of the human intellect, and inherent to its capacity to comprehend very complex or difficult concepts and ideas, is to break things down into their component parts. we also label and categorize new concepts & ideas according to its perceived relationship to other concepts/ideas. and in this way we organize, make sense of, and integrate new knowledge into our present understanding of the world we live in. this architectonic approach to knowledge acquisition has proved immensely effective at building a useful understanding of the world around us in a systematized fashion.

it's not a psychological fault, it's simply a practical & efficient learning technique and part of our natural heuristic algorithm.

terms like living/non-living, animate/inanimate, sentient/non-sentient, sapient/non-sapient, etc. are very useful for describing and categorizing/organizing the diverse range of organic structures which exist in the world. at times these labels may need to be changed, modified, redefined, removed, replaced, merged, or split apart, but they will always be needed. they define meaningful qualities and make scientifically useful & necessary distinctions between different classes of objects.

and no one said that life evolved in discrete steps. most scientists agree that viruses "live" between the world of the living and the world of the dead. we also know that we know very little about the consciousness mind. but we apply labels and to mark meaningful differences between various states of awareness/living. as we continue to study these topics, we will be able to better understand these phenomena and gradually refine our labels & definitions.

also, reducing all biological phenomena to just the phrase "complex systems" is a gross oversimplification lacking any scientifically meaningful definition. "complex" is a very vague word. a piece of pocket lint is very complex at the quantum level, or even at the molecular level. i fail to see how replacing "life" or "living" with "complex systems" is conducive of better scientific understanding of biology.

Re:Joins? (2, Interesting)

Orange Crush (934731) | more than 6 years ago | (#24726255)

What does it take for life to come about from non-life. Do we have an idea?

Not really, no. Aside from having the necessary ingredients, we don't know how abiogenesis happened, or even that it happened here on Earth. The first microbes might've formed or partially formed in comets that later impacted the Earth and "came to life" down here, or maybe it happened entirely in warm little puddles and tidepools. Regardless, the conditions in which it did happen, or even CAN happen are largely unknown. There very well may be a big difference between what life can adapt to over time versus come about in the first place. There may be extremophiles on Earth that could survive on Mars or Titan right now, but that doesn't mean proto-microbes could have arisen from scratch in those same environments. The Earth extremophiles had the advantage of a wide variety of habitats to evolve from and "move in" to their extreme habitats gradually.

Re:Joins? (3, Interesting)

symbolset (646467) | more than 6 years ago | (#24727493)

The first microbes might've formed or partially formed in comets that later impacted the Earth and "came to life" down here, or maybe it happened entirely in warm little puddles and tidepools.

Some of the "building blocks" that may be in comets could even be remnants of life that surrounded sol's parent star that went supernova and gave us all of the elements in the periodic table above iron. Although it's hard to believe any actual life surviving those conditions for those periods of time, it can't be proven to be impossible. Who knows?

Re:Joins? (1)

sir fer (1232128) | more than 5 years ago | (#24733839)

What does it take for life to come about from non-life. Do we have an idea?

Lightning of course! It's alive! It's alive!

;o)

Re:Joins? (3, Interesting)

wvmarle (1070040) | more than 6 years ago | (#24726863)

What many scientists look for in remote planets is chemical imbalance, from an energetic point of view. Chemical imbalance may not be the only result of the existence of life, or even a guaranteed result, it is very reasonable to look for that as both core aspects of life would cause such a chemical imbalance.

A typical aspect of life (at least life as we know it, and what we commonly consider "living") is a mechanism that is doing something with energy: usually storing energy using chemical reactions. As a result there is a lot of matter on earth that is not in a very low energy level, e.g. oil and coal. The ultimate source of this energy could be light (most lifeforms on earth use this energy source - directly or indirectly), but other sources are also possible, think of sulfur-reducing bacteria near hot wells, using sulfur and maybe also heat as energy source. The sulfur getting in that high-energy form thanks to the heat in the core of the earth reducing the sulfur to it's elemental form, later oxidations by the bacteria release energy.

A second typical aspect of life is self-replication. This is a necessity of survival: even if an individual would not age, there are always accidents and diseases that will put an end to an individual. So self-replication is also a requirement. And I suspect that most, if not all self-replication reactions take energy, for the simple reason that self-replication means a decrease in entropy in the matter used to create this copy. Again energy is stored: releasing the molecules and restoring the entropy will result in the release of energy as well.

So for non-life to become life, I'd say a system should be able to replicate itself, and to collect energy from it's surroundings. That I think is the most basic requirement for what one could call "life".

Re:Joins? (2, Insightful)

v1 (525388) | more than 6 years ago | (#24726193)

Considering the vast variety of conditions where life exists on earth I would consider it likely that there is life elsewhere too.

The catch is that although life can exist in extreme conditions as we observe here on earth in places, the likelyhood of genesis in such conditions is much lower than the odds of genesis in more gentle environments. So it makes sense to look for either existing conditions, or previously existing conditions, that are "gentle" and are statistically much more likely to experience genesis. If there is only a hostile environment presently, it's more likely that conditions were more favorable in the past, and life evolved to survive in the more hostile present conditions. That's why they not only look for signs of water, but for past signs of water.

you take my expectations higher man (1)

extirpater (132500) | more than 6 years ago | (#24725955)

i'm expecting an elephant there, ok ok but really there can be micro life, everyday one more possibility is found for life on titan.

Re:you take my expectations higher man (1)

Joebert (946227) | more than 6 years ago | (#24726041)

If you're seeing tiny elephants you should consider getting a checkup, that's not normal.

Re:Joins? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24726001)

I know they sell insurance, but dunno about life insurance. Didn't realize they were in the petroleum business either.

Re:Joins? (2, Informative)

OriginalArlen (726444) | more than 6 years ago | (#24726959)

There's not enough energy for sufficiently complex chemistry; the sun's too far away, it's too cold, and Titan doesn't get significantly Io or Europa-style tidal heating. It's 100 degrees Kelvin on Titan... Not gonna happen.

I'd be happy to be proved wrong, but as anyone following the wrangling over the next outer-planets flagship mission knows, we could easily not get a dedicated Titan mission for until the end of the decade after next.

Re:Joins? (2, Insightful)

jcorno (889560) | more than 6 years ago | (#24729073)

There's not enough energy for sufficiently complex chemistry; the sun's too far away, it's too cold, and Titan doesn't get significantly Io or Europa-style tidal heating. It's 100 degrees Kelvin on Titan... Not gonna happen.

There's not enough energy for complex reactions to happen quickly, but they can still happen. And there's nothing that says life has to be able to form there today. Assuming it has a large, rocky core, it must've gone through a long cooling phase after forming, so there would have been significant geothermal energy at some point. It's also a pretty crowded orbit. Collisions would provide at least short term heating; there's no reason it has to happen all at once.

Re:Joins? (1)

peskymonster (1350425) | more than 6 years ago | (#24727447)

I agree totally it has been a long time finding out

Re:Joins? (1)

ZeroFactorial (1025676) | more than 6 years ago | (#24728555)

It seems to me that every investigation into finding life outside of earth demonstrates the observer effect. [wikipedia.org]

By bringing equipment from earth to another place, there is always the possibility that some microscopic organism, hearty bacteria, etc... will have come along for the ride, thus introducing life into the environment being examined.

What about the subsurface ocean? (4, Interesting)

localroger (258128) | more than 6 years ago | (#24725903)

One of the recent blips on the Cassini-Huygens website (since scrolled off) is that Titan's crust seems to be decoupled from the moon's core, indicting that its "mantle" may be liquid -- an ocean of water hundreds of kilometers deep. Combined with all the organic crap sitting on top and the ice volcanoes I am starting to think it would be surprising if there weren't life on Titan.

Re:What about the subsurface ocean? (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24728521)

To that end, I suppose we may have to wait for another probe capable of going below the crust to get a better look. The real question: Is it acceptable for humans to drill moons all over the galaxy or are going to preserve what little universe we have left. What about the titanium sea otters!? Does no one care about the titanium sea otters?!

Don't worry. (0, Troll)

Roskolnikov (68772) | more than 6 years ago | (#24725911)

Someone is going to figure out that ice encrusted methane is nearly the same as a full tank of gas for their expedition; once that occurs I suspect any evidence of life will become exhaust remains.

Re:Don't worry. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24726015)

ice encrusted methane is nearly the same as a full tank of gas

No, no it isn't.

Methane can be burned in our planet's air because of the oxygen, but space is ... you know, a vacuum.

Re:Don't worry. (4, Interesting)

Roskolnikov (68772) | more than 6 years ago | (#24726055)

ah, yes, I suspect if you wanted to burn it the suspected water/ammonia mix found in the ice could be a source of oxygen if needed, I also suspect methane would work really well in a fuel cell designed for it.

http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v400/n6745/abs/400649a0.html [nature.com]

when I said fuel, I didn't say burn.

Arthur C. Clarke all the way... (4, Funny)

kale77in (703316) | more than 6 years ago | (#24725939)

It's Europa. And the Chinese will get there first.

Book or Movie? (3, Informative)

localroger (258128) | more than 6 years ago | (#24725953)

In the original 2001 book they went to Saturn, where Titan and Enceladus are. It would have been a long walk to get to Europa. In the movie and sequels they go to Jupiter, where Europa is. It would be a long walk from there to Titan.

Book: 2010. (1)

kale77in (703316) | more than 6 years ago | (#24726117)

Book: 2010. ... as gmac63 has already remarked, I see.

Re:Book or Movie? (4, Informative)

FooAtWFU (699187) | more than 6 years ago | (#24726251)

More specifically, in the 2010 book, they send people back to the vicinity of Jupiter, only they're racing the Chinese, who overcome the American head start and get their first by blasting through all their fuel: they land on Europa to get more, find some sort of life, and perish... then the monoliths turn Jupiter into a small star (presumably in order to foster said life) and send out a message about how "all these worlds are yours - except Europa: attempt no landings there".

Re:Arthur C. Clarke all the way... (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 6 years ago | (#24730575)

But they get eaten by a giant sea worm.

2010: Odyssey Two (ACC) (1)

gmac63 (12603) | more than 6 years ago | (#24725949)

In my mind I'm humming "Also Spract Zarathustra".

Re:2010: Odyssey Two (ACC) (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24726537)

In my mind I'm humming "Also Spract Zarathustra".

stop it! all the rest of us can hear it too. At least close your mouth.

On Titan, water ice is a rock (5, Interesting)

mbone (558574) | more than 6 years ago | (#24725957)

Titan is a very different place from Earth. Water ice is a rock (surface temperatures never come close to the melting point) and, critically, temperature / entropy gradients are much smaller than on Earth. (It's not just cold, the flow of energy is slow.) So, if there is life, i would anticipate not something like terrestrial extremophiles, but an entirely new form of life, which doesn't use water as a medium and which would be very slow from our viewpoint. I asbolutely think that such life could evolve, if it is possible at all, but who knows if it is possible. Going there would be one way to find out, but that will neither be easy, simple, cheap or quick.

I think that the article is misleading in one respect - a body of liquid water might survive for a while (in the same way that a pool of lava - molten rock - can survive for decades or longer on the Earth, and presumably on Mars), but, just like the pool of lava, it would be quickly encased in a layer of frozen water ice. You might have water at the surface, but you would not have water on the surface for any length of time (think polar ice caps in the middle of winter, and you are still way too warm). It is hard to see how extremophiles could evolve in those circumstances, and it is very hard to see how biological material from the Earth or Mars, blasted out by meteor impacts, could reach Titan intact.

Re:On Titan, water ice is a rock (1)

DragonTHC (208439) | more than 6 years ago | (#24725975)

We don't yet know if Titan was always frozen.

There are lakes of liquid methane there. I imagine some microbes could adapt to living in methane.

Though, I bet there will probably be taun tauns there.

According to TFA... (1)

localroger (258128) | more than 6 years ago | (#24725987)

...water lava would remain in a liquid state for hundreds or thousands of years. I'm not sure how they reach this conclusion, but they address the issue. Also, just a few weeks ago the Cassini team announced that there may be a massive subsurface ocean, which kind of changes things in ways even this article didn't address.

Re:According to TFA... (2, Informative)

Scott Carnahan (587472) | more than 6 years ago | (#24727033)

This is especially relevant, since Geisler found [wikipedia.org] some (rather indirect) evidence that life was present on Earth just a few hundred million years after the planet solidified. This suggests that life can form relatively quickly in a water-rich environment. However, the lateness of the Cambrian explosion suggests that oxygenation of the biosphere presents a hard metabolic requirement to forming complex multicellular organisms, like us.

Re:According to TFA... (1)

QuoteMstr (55051) | more than 6 years ago | (#24727779)

The terms in this discussion are great! "Water ice is a rock." - "Water lava". When you put ideas like that, the geology of Titan becomes much more intuitive.

Re:According to TFA... (1)

mbone (558574) | more than 6 years ago | (#24730983)

First, the ocean that has been postulated is 100 km or more down - that is indeed a possible location for life, although unless there is more radioactivity that expected there won't be much of an energy source. Any life down there could not live at the surface, though, even if it were brought up - at best it would be in spore form.

Second, the surface temperature is about -180 C. Even at -40 C, water will pretty much instantly form a crust of ice. Remember, Niagara Falls used to freeze solid at temperature much, much, warmer than the surface of Titan. So, I think that even a large body of water released a cyro-volcano would "instantly" (in a few hours at most) crust over, and the crust would remain. Lava on Earth behaves in the same fashion.

Re:On Titan, water ice is a rock (1)

aztektum (170569) | more than 6 years ago | (#24728629)

Titan is a very different place from Earth.

What tipped you off? The "largely ice covered" or the "lakes of methane"? :P

Re:On Titan, water ice is a rock (2, Informative)

mikael (484) | more than 6 years ago | (#24730259)

I once tried freezing a complete 2 litre of bottle of water in -20C temperatures. All but a central core of 1.5 inches froze - This gave me a solid ice tube which actually split the bottle itself. There was water in the middle - the pressure from the surrounding ice must have been enough to keep it liquid.

Re:On Titan, water ice is a rock (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 6 years ago | (#24730597)

There is a good theory that life on Earth originated in ice. The idea that life could get a start in water volcanoes isn't that implausible. We also have life right here that lives in solid rock (and solid ice), so life living in solid, never melts ice isn't impossible either. The rock and ice microorganisms do have slower metabolisms, which is a very reasonable expectation for any life on Titan.

We should send the modern day Malachi Constant (1)

antifoidulus (807088) | more than 6 years ago | (#24725997)

aka George W. Bush, to find out. Maybe Winston, Kazak, and the Tralfamadorian need something delivered.

Re:We should send the modern day Malachi Constant (1)

Gavagai80 (1275204) | more than 6 years ago | (#24730209)

Bush doesn't have much in common with Constant. Try Donald Trump, maybe.

obligitory (-1, Troll)

nawcom (941663) | more than 6 years ago | (#24726025)

*nawcom farts*

an awful lot of words to say "maybe" (1)

petes_PoV (912422) | more than 6 years ago | (#24726031)

Given that until we go there to find out - or send a probe, this is all mere conjecture.

Of course cutting the article down to it's basics "we don't know, but it's possible" wouldn't fill much magazine space or sell many adverts.

What about Venus and Mercury? (2, Interesting)

jmil (782329) | more than 6 years ago | (#24726051)

No... there couldn't. solar radiation was probably important for creating life as we know it, providing that critical energy input to build the first organic molecules. Titan is tooooo far away to get much radiation. Life could evolve there, but if it were a random event it would be MUCH slower than here on earth because it is so much colder over there. So we might have to wait a few more billion years.

And so by that rationale, we should be looking for remnants or indications of life on venus and mercury... or at least some interesting new molecular compounds.

Not necessarily (1)

localroger (258128) | more than 6 years ago | (#24726337)

There is a tremendous amount of weather on Titan because of tidal interactions, and like any fairly large world its interior is significantly warmer than its surface. There's quite a bit of radiation in the area due to Saturn's magnetic field and the Solar wind. And Titan would have been significantly warmer closer to the time of its formation and during the period when its rotation was winding down toward tidal lock.

Re:Not necessarily (2, Interesting)

jmil (782329) | more than 6 years ago | (#24727005)

Precisely. So there's little to no chance of finding anything on the *surface* of Titan, which is the only place we have a remote capability to look.

We would need deep sea autonomous vehicles or autonomous digging machines, none of which are within NASA's budget (because we've never built them successfully here on Earth). We've never looked near Earth's core for life either.

It's too cold where we're looking, and we don't have the capabilities to look deeper into the crust.

Moreover, we only ever look for "Earth-like" life elsewhere (read: carbon-based, organic), and have no capacity or machinery to discover or identify non-carbon-based life (silicon, or iron-based), whether it be on the surface or below.

It's a heavily flawed search, which is why it amazes me that we give them money to do it.

Re:Not necessarily (1)

cyclop (780354) | more than 6 years ago | (#24727527)

There is a problem with silicon-based life. Silicon is not as nearly versatile chemically as carbon is. It is highly doubtful silicon can sustain any meaningful biochemistry -at least, not by itself, a biochemistry made of carbon AND silicon is probably possible. The most worrying data for silicon-based life come from Earth itself: there is much more silicon than carbon on Earth's surface, yet we are a carbon-based lifeform.

I often wonder what we could find if hypothetical carbon planets [wikipedia.org] turn to exist.

As for iron-based life, I don't know where this idea comes from, and I'd be interested in reading about it. It seems chemically very wacky too, but I'd like to know on which assumptions it is based. Any link?

Re:Not necessarily (3, Insightful)

jmil (782329) | more than 6 years ago | (#24730707)

There is a problem with silicon-based life. Silicon is not as nearly versatile chemically as carbon is. It is highly doubtful silicon can sustain any meaningful biochemistry -at least, not by itself

These statements are all true... on Earth. Plenty of reactive silanes are possible. All known biochemistry is based on carbon, so of course silicon is not going to catalyze many biochemical reactions. But carbon-based reactions do not go so efficiently in the cold... Iron chemistries might have gone wild on Mars. Why not metal-based life (lots of metals form strong alloys)?

Carbon itself is highly unreactive. This is why pencils and diamond rings are allowed on airplanes. It needs bonded groups such as amines, hydroxyls, thiols, etc. to get any meaningful work done. Carbon is just the backbone.

We simply haven't tried every possible chemical reaction in all possible environmental conditions to know which reactions might be "spontaneous" on other planets. We can sure try and guess. However, chemists are surprised every day by reaction kinetics, behaviors, and mechanisms here on Earth. We still don't understand chemistry that well. So why do we need to stifle ideas of how things might evolve on other planets with vastly different experimental conditions?

We should be looking closer at Venus instead... it's nearby, lots of strong chemicals and lots of heat make for an intriguing place for reactions to take place. Moving far away from the Sun is misguided if we're looking for interesting chemistry...

Re:What about Venus and Mercury? (2, Interesting)

symbolset (646467) | more than 6 years ago | (#24727669)

Billions of years ago Venus's orbit was about where Earth's is now. At least one theory [sciam.com] says it was struck by an object roughly the mass of Mars which reversed its rotation, crashed one moon and drove off the other, and presumably altered its surface composition considerably. Yes, Venus is a good candidate for a prior genesis of life. Good luck finding it though.

Re:What about Venus and Mercury? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24729327)

Also, I believe that the recent millimeter wave mapping of Venus showed that the entire surface of Venus has changed, as if it was swallowed from below and replaced with new crust. Add that to the fact that it is hot enough to melt lead, it rains acid, and any probe sent there only lasts minutes I would say that it is doubtful.

Re:What about Venus and Mercury? (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 6 years ago | (#24730611)

Some of the leading theories for the origin of life on Earth have it getting started completely independently of solar radiation.

duh? (1)

nih (411096) | more than 6 years ago | (#24726063)

i'm on Titan right n

Great ... but still not worth squat (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24726097)

all this science at a distance is great, if you're an over-paid, underworked first-worlder looking for a cushy tenured position. However, what the world really needs is real space exploration by real astronauts. Sadly, what we've got is a bureaucratic blackhole called NASA.

Re:Great ... but still not worth squat (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24726425)

flamebait?

Wow ... the truth really must hurt!

Re:Great ... but still not worth squat (1)

Bill, Shooter of Bul (629286) | more than 6 years ago | (#24727001)

Its just a confusing statement that is full of bizarre statements. NASA scientists don't get tenure. They're employees. They really aren't overpaid at least when compared to the general population and accounting for the level of education. They also work a comparable amount to everyone else. Are you suggesting that space exploration should be done by third world countries? I think they need to make more progress forming stable governments and improving the standard of living a bit before they have enough government surplus to fund a space program. The Us is planning on returning to the moon. Its just economically infeasible to go directly to these faraway celestial bodies with human pilots with current technology. NASA does have its bureaucratic nature, but it also does produces some great science as well. In light of the bizarre nature of your post with substantial obvious factual errors, I'm not surprised it was marked as flamebait.

Yes (1)

Stellian (673475) | more than 6 years ago | (#24726099)

It could.

(plus o*ne Informative) (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24726123)

is Imired in an a dead man walking. AMERICA) is the

Extremeophile (2, Insightful)

bigattichouse (527527) | more than 6 years ago | (#24726129)

1. Lets suppose, for a moment that extremeophile life exists on Titan. The conditions on Titan are far more prevailant in the universe than "habitable zones". Which means we are an extremely delicate form of life. "narrowphile" 2. Etremophiles would then be a more likely, and more dominant life zone than us. 3. We're looking for the wrong conditions through the universe to support life. We should be looking for energy rich (metane, sulphur), hot and cold "extreme" environments.

That is basically the Rare Earth theory (1)

localroger (258128) | more than 6 years ago | (#24726377)

Via Wiki [wikipedia.org] . It suggests that extremophile life is common, since however it started it started on Earth just about as soon as conditions were hospitable enough, but that most places in the galaxy will be too unstable to allow evolution of complex forms such as multicellular plants and animals.

Code of the Lifemaker (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24726383)

http://jamesphogan.com/books/book.php?titleID=2&ed=5 [jamesphogan.com]

THE SEARCHER

1.1 MILLION YEARS B.C.

1,000 LIGHT-YEARS FROM THE SOLAR SYSTEM

Had English-speaking humans existed, they would probably have translated the spacecraftâ(TM)s designation as "searcher." Unmanned, it was almost a mile long, streamlined for descent through planetary atmospheres, and it operated fully under the control of computers. The alien civilization was an advanced one, and the computers were very sophisticated.

The planet at which the searcher arrived after a voyage of many years was the fourth in the system of a star named after the king of a mythical race of alien gods, and could appropriately be called Zeus IV. It wasnâ(TM)t much to look at: an airless, lifeless ball of eroded rock formations, a lot of boulders and debris from ancient meteorite impacts, and vast areas of volcanic ash and dustâ" but the searcherâ(TM)s orbital probes and surface landers found a crust rich in titanium, chromium, cobalt, copper, manganese, uranium, and many other valuable elements concentrated by thermal-fluidic processes operating early in the planetâ(TM)s history. Such a natural abundance of metals could support large scale production without extensive dependence on bulk nuclear transmutation processesâ"in other words, very economicallyâ"and that was precisely the kind of thing that the searcher has been designed to search for. After completing their analysis of the preliminary data, the control computers selected a landing site, composed and transmitted a message home to report their findings and announce their intentions, and then activated the vesselâ(TM)s descent routine. Shortly after the landing, a menagerie of surveyor robots, equipped with imagers, spectrometers, analyzers, chemical sensors, rock samplers, radiation monitors, and various manipulator appendages, emerged from the ship and dispersed across the surrounding terrain to investigate surface features selected from orbit. Their findings were transmitted back to the ship and processed, and shortly afterward follow-up teams of tracked, legged, and wheeled mining, drilling, and transportation robots went out to begin feeding ores and other materials back to where more machines had begun to build a fusion-powered pilot extraction plant. A parts-making facility was constructed next, followed by a parts assembly facility, and step by strep the pilot plant grew itself into a fully equipped, general-purpose factory, complete with its own control computers. The master programs from the ship were copied into the factoryâ(TM)s computers, which thereupon became self-sufficient and assumed control of surface operations. The factory then began making more robots.

Sometimes, of course, things failed to work exactly as intended, but the alien engineers had created their own counterpart of Murphy and allowed for his law in their plans. Maintenance robots took care of breakdowns and routine wear and tear in the factory; troubleshooting programs tracked down causes of production rejects and adjusted the machines for drifting tolerances; breakdown teams brought in malfunctioning machines for repair; and specialized scavenging robots roamed the surface in search of wrecks, write-offs, discarded components, and any other likely sources of parts suitable for recycling.

Time passed, the factory hummed, and the robot population grew in number and variety. When the population had attained a critical size, a mixed workforce migrated a few miles away to build a second factory, a replica of the first, using materials supplied initially from Factory One. When Factory Two became self-sustaining, Factory One, its primary task accomplished, switched to mass- production mode, producing goods and materials for eventual shipment to the alien home planet.

While Factory Two was repeating the process by commencing work on Factory Three, the labor detail from Factory One picked up its tools and moved on to begin Factory Four. By the time Factory Four was up and running, Factories Five through Eight were already taking shape. Factory Two was in mass-production mode, and Factory Three was building the first of a fleet of cargo vessels to carry home the products being stockpiled. This self-replicating pattern would spread rapidly to transform the entire surface of Zeus IV into a totally automated manufacturing complex dedicated to supplying the distant alien civilization from local resources.

From within the searcherâ(TM)s control computers, the Supervisor program gazed out at the scene through its data input channels and saw that its work was good. After a thorough overhaul and systems checkout, the searcher ship reembarked its primary workforce and launched itself into space to seek more worlds on which to repeat the cycle.

FIFTY YEARS LATER

Not farâ"as galactic distances goâ"from Zeus was another star, a hot bluish white star with a mass of over fifteen times that of the sun. It had formed rapidly, and its life spanâ"the temporary halt of its collapse under self gravitation by thermonuclear radiation pressureâ"had demanded such a prodigious output of energy as to be a brief one. In only ten million years the star, which had converted all the hydrogen in its outer shell to helium, resumed its collapse until the core temperature was high enough to burn the helium into carbon, and then, when the helium was exhausted, repeated the process to begin burning carbon. The ignition of carbon raised the core temperature higher still, which induced a higher rate of carbon burning, which in turn heated the core even more, and a thermonuclear runaway set in which in terms of stellar timescales was instantaneous. In mere days the star erupted into a supernovaâ"radiating with a billion times the brightness of the Sun, exploding outward until its photosphere enclosed a radius greater than that of Uranusâ(TM) orbit, and devouring its tiny flock of planets in the process.

Those planets had been next on the searcherâ(TM)s list to investigate, and it happened that the ship was heading into its final approach when the star exploded. The radiation blast hit it head-on at three billion miles out.

The searcherâ(TM)s hull survived more-or-less intact, but secondary x-rays and high-energy subnuclear particlesâ"things distinctly unhealthy for computersâ"flooded its interior. With most of its primary sensors burned out, its navigation system disrupted, and many of its programs obliterated or altered, the searcher veered away and disappeared back into the depths of interstellar space.

One of the faint specks lying in the direction now ahead of the ship was a yellow-white dwarf star, a thousand light-years away. It too possessed a family of planets, and on the third of those planets the descendants of a species of semi-intelligent ape had tamed fire and were beginning to experiment with tools chipped laboriously from thin flakes of stone.

Supernovas are comparatively rare events, occurring with a frequency of perhaps two or three per year in the average galaxy. But as with most generalizations, this has occasional exceptions. The supernova that almost enveloped the searcher turned out to be one of a small chain that rippled through a localized cluster of massive stars formed at roughly the same time. Located in the middle of the cluster was a normal, longer-lived star which happened to be the home star of the aliens. The aliens had never gotten round to extending their civilization much beyond the limits of their own planetary system, which was unfortunate because that was the end of them. Everybody has a bad day sometimes.

ONE MILLION YEARS B.C.

One hundred thousand years after being scorched by the supernova, the searcher drifted into the outer regions of a planetary system, With its high-altitude surveillance instruments only partly functioning and its probes unable to deploy at all, the ship went directly into its descent routine over the first sizable body that it encountered, a frozen ball of ice-encrusted rock about three-thousand miles in diameter, with seas of liquid methane and an atmosphere of nitrogen, hydrogen, and methane vapor. The world came nowhere near meeting the criteria for worthwhile exploitation , but that was no consequence since the programs responsible for surface analysis and evaluation werenâ(TM)t working.

The programs to initiate surface activity did work, however, more or less, and Factory One, with all its essential functions up and running to at least some degree, was duly built on a rocky shelf above an ice beach flanking an inlet of a shallow methane sea. The shipâ(TM)s master programs were copied across into the newly installed factory computers, which identified the commencement of work on Factory Two as their first assignment. Accordingly Factory Oneâ(TM)s Supervisor program signaled the shipâ(TM)s databank for a copy of the "How to Make a Factory" file, which included subfiles on "How to Make Machines Needed to Make a Factory," i.e., robots. And that was where everything really started to go wrong.

The robots could be reprogrammed via radio link from the factory computers for each new task to be accomplished. This allowed the robots to proceed with their various jobs under autonomous local control and freed up the central computers for other work while they were waiting for the next "Done that--what do I do now?" signal. Hence many software mechanisms existed for initiating data transfers between the factory computers and the remote processors inside the robots.

When the copying of the "How to Make a Factory" file from the ship to Factory One was attempted, the wrong software linkages were activated; instead of finding their way into the factoryâ(TM)s central system, the subfiles containing the manufacturing information for the various robots were merely relayed through the factory and beamed out into the local memories of the respective robot types to which they pertained. No copies at all were retained in the factory databank. Ane even worse, the originals inside the ship managed to self-destruct in the process and were irretrievably erased. The only copies of the "How to Make a Fred-type Robot" subfile were the ones contained inside the Fred-types out on the surface. And the same was true for all the other types as well.

So when the factoryâ(TM)s Supervisor program ordered the Scheduler program to schedule more robots for manufacture, and the Scheduler lodged a request with the Databank Manager for the relevant subfiles, the Databank Manager found that it couldnâ(TM)t deliver. Neither could it obtain a recopy from the ship. The Databank Manager reported the problem to the Scheduler; the Scheduler complained to the Supervisor; the Supervisor blamed the Communications Manager; the Communications Manager demanded an explanation from the Message Handler; and after a lot of mutual electronic recriminations and accusations, the system logging and diagnostic programs determined that the missing subfiles had last been tracked streaming out through the transmission buffers on their way to the robots outside. Under a stern directive from the Supervisor, the Communications Manager selected a Fred from the first category of robots called for on the Schedulerâ(TM)s list, and beamed it a message telling it to send its subfile back again.

But the Fred didnâ(TM)t have a complete copy of the subfile; its local memory simply hadnâ(TM)t been bid enough to hold all of it. And for the same reason, none of the other Freds could return a full copy either. They had been sprayed in succession with the datastream like buckets being filled from a fire-hose, and all had ended up with different portions of the subfile; but they appeared to have preserved the whole subfile among them. So the Supervisor had to retrieve different pieces from different Freds to fit them together again in a way that made sense. And that was how it arrived at the version it eventually handed to the Scheduler for manufacture.

Unfortunately, the instruction to store the information for future reference got lost somewhere, and for each batch of Freds the relevant "How to Make" subfile was promptly erased as soon as the Manufacturing Manager had finished with it. Hence when Factory One had spent some time producing parts of Factory Two and needed to expand its robot workforce to begin surveying sites for Factory Three, the Supervisor had to go through the whole rigmarole again. And the same process was necessary whenever a new run was scheduled to provide replacements for robots that had broken down or were wearing out.

All of this took up excessive amounts of processor time, loaded up the communications channels, and was generally inefficient in the ways that cost accountants worry about. The alien programers had been suitably indoctrinated by the alien cost accountants who ran the businessâ" as alwaysâ"and had written the Supervisor as a flexible, self-modifying learning program that would detect such inefficiencies, grow unhappy about them, and seek ways to improve things. After a few trials, the Supervisor found that some of the Freds contained about half their respective subfiles, which meant that a complete copy could be obtained by interrogating just two of such "matching pairs" and began selecting them as its source for repeat requests from the Scheduler, ignoring the others.

Lost along with the original "How to Make a Fred" subfiles were the subfiles on "Programs to Write into a Fred to Start It Up after youâ(TM)ve Made It." To make up for the deficiency, the Supervisor copied through to the Scheduler the full set of programs that it found already existing in the Freds selected to provide reproduction information, and these programs, of course, included the ones on how to make Freds. Thus the robots began coming off the line with one-half of their "genetic" information automatically built in, and a cycle asserting itself whereby they in turn became the source of information to be recombined later for producing more Freds. The method worked, and the Supervisor never figured out that it could have saved itself a lot of trouble by storing the blueprints away once and for all in the factory databank.

The program segments being recombined in this way frequently failed to copy faithfully, and the "genomes" formed from them were seldom identical, some having portions of code omitted while others had portions duplicated. Consequently the Freds started taking on strange shapes and behaving in strange ways.

Some didnâ(TM)t exhibit any behavior at all but simply fell over and failed during test, to be broken down into parts again and recycled. A lot were like that.

Some, from the earlier phase, were genetically incompleteâ""sterile"â"and never called upon by the Supervisor to furnish reproductive data. They lasted until they broke down or wore out, and then became extinct.

Some reproduced passively, i.e., by transmitting their half-subfiles to the factory when the Scheduler asked for them.

A few, however, had inherited from the shipâ(TM)s software the program modules whose function was to lodge requests with the Scheduler to schedule more models of their own kindâ" program modules, moreover, which embodied a self-modifying priority structure capable of raising the urgency of their requests within the system until they were serviced. The robots in this category sought to reproduce actively: They behaved as if they experienced a compulsion to ensure that their half-subfiles were always included in the Schedulerâ(TM)s schedule of "Things to Make Next."

So when Factory One switched over to mass-production mode, the robots competing for slots in its product list soon grabbed all of the available memory space and caused the factory to become dedicated to churning out nothing else. When Factory Two went into operation under control of programs copied from Factory One, the same thing happened there. And the same cycle would be propagated to Factory Three, construction of which had by that time begun.

More factories appeared in a pattern spreading inland from the rocky coastal shelf. The instability inherent in the original parent software continued to manifest itself in the copies of copies of copies passed on to later generations, and the new factories, along with their mixed populations of robot progeny, diverged further in form and function.

Material resources were scarce almost everywhere, which resulted in the emergence of competitive pressures that the alien system designers had never intended. The factory-robot communities that happened to include a balanced mix of surveyor, procurement, and scavenger robots with "appetites" appropriate to their factoriesâ(TM) needs, and which enjoyed favorable sites on the surface, usually managed to survive if not flourish. Factory Ten, for example, occupied the center of an ancient meteorite crater twelve miles across, where the heat and shock of the impact had exposed metal-bearing bedrock from below the ice; Factory Thirteen established itself inside a deep fissure where the ice beneath was relatively thin, and was able to melt a shaft down to the denser core material; and Factory Fifteen resorted to nuclear transmutation processes to build heavier nuclei from lighter ones frozen in solution in the ice crust. But many were like Factory Nineteen, which began to take shape on an ill-chosen spot far out on a bleak ice field, and ground to a halt when its deep-drilling robots and transmutation reactors failed to function, and its supply of vital materials ran out.

The scavenger and parts-salvaging robots assumed a crucial role in shaping the strange metabolism that was coming into being. Regardless of what the Schedulers in the various factories would have liked to see made, the only things that could be assembled readily were the ones for which parts were available, and that depended to a large degree on the ability of the scavengers to locate therm, or alternatively to locate assemblies suitable for breaking downâ" "digesting"â"and rebuilding into something useful. Factory Twenty-four was an extreme case. Unable to "metabolize" parts directly form any source of raw materials because of the complete failure of its materials-procurement workforce, it relied totally on its scavengers. Factory Thirty-two, on the other hand, could acquire raw materials but couldnâ(TM)t use them since it had been built without a processing facility at all. Its robots delivered instead to Forty-seven, which happened to produce parts for some of the scavengers being manufactured by Thirty-two, and the two factory-robot organisms managed to coexist happily in their bizarre form of symbiosis.

The piles of assorted junk, which shouldnâ(TM)t have accumulated from earlier phases of the process but had, were eaten up; the machines that broke down were eaten up; the carcasses of defunct factories were eaten up. When those sources of materials had been exhausted, some of the machines began to eat each other. The scavengers had been designed, as they had to be, to discriminate between properly functioning machines and desirable products on the one hand, and rejects in need of recycling on the other. However, as with everything else in the whole, messed-up project, this function worded well in some cases, not so well in others, and often not al all. Some of the models turned out to be as likely to attempt the dismantling of a live, walking around Fred as of a dead, flat-on-its-back one. Many of the victims were indifferent to this kind of treatment and soon died out, but others succeeded in developing effective fight-or-flee responses to preserve themselves, thus marking the beginnings of specialized prey and predators in the form of "lithovores" and "artifactovores."

This development was not always an advantage, especially when the loss of discrimination was total. Factory Fifty was consumed by its own offspring, who began dismantling it at its output end as soon as they came off the assembly line, and then proceeded proudly to deliver the pieces back to its input end. Its internal repair robots were unable undo the undoings fast enough, and it ground to a halt to become plunder for marauders from Thirty-six and Fifty-three. The most successful factory-robot organisms protected themselves by evolving aggressive armies of "antibody" defenders, which would recognize their own factory and its "kind" and leave them alone, but attack and attempt to destroy any "foreign" models that ventured too close. This gradually became the dominant form of organism, usually associated with a distinct territory which its members cooperated in protecting collectively.

By this time only a few holes in the ground remained at opposite ends of the rocky shelf to mark where Factories One and Two had once stood. They had failed to keep up with the times, and the area had become the domain of Factory Sixty-five. The only trace left of the searcher spacecraft was a long, rounded depression in the ice beach below, on the shore of the liquid methane sea.

News. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24726575)

I like how this was the cover of my 1976 National Geographic ... and only now makes it to the web, and as "news".

Missing link in the club (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24726589)

Titan joins Mars, Venus, Europa and Enceladus as a potential home to extremophile life in our solar system.

Methinks somebody forgot Earth as a potent home to extremophile life ...

Disappointed! (1)

Jerry Coffin (824726) | more than 6 years ago | (#24726681)

I'm disappointed that so few are sufficiently well read to know that Titan has statues of three Sirens, and is occupied by a robot carrying a message containing a single dot (meaning "Hi" in its language). Essentially the entire history of earth has been a consequence of its attempts to send a message back home to get its space ship repaired after crashing on Titan. Actual life, however, would be restricted primarily to Winston Niles, after he passed over into the chrono-synclastic infundibulum (sp?).

It's a MOON! (2, Funny)

owlnation (858981) | more than 6 years ago | (#24726699)

So of course there's life on it -- WHALES!

One's extreme is the other's comfort zone (1)

wvmarle (1070040) | more than 6 years ago | (#24726757)

We're talking about life here after all... we know on earth that life can be found virtually anywhere. And after all, an environment what we call "extreme", some microbes may call "nice and comfortable".

Those microbes may well consider us to be an extremophile!

Broadcast From HAL (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24726899)

All these worlds
Are yours except
Titan
Attempt no
Landing there
Use them together
Use them in peace

Sweet but ... (1)

Teisei (1172661) | more than 6 years ago | (#24727153)

Does it run Linux?

Re:Sweet but ... (1)

Darfeld (1147131) | more than 6 years ago | (#24729747)

Well it's probably to cold, even for penguin out there. :p

entire solar system "infection" is possible (2, Insightful)

peter303 (12292) | more than 6 years ago | (#24727167)

Inter-planetary meteor crossing are not rare. Dozens of Mars rocks have been identified on earth, probably a sample samples of thousands that have fallen. Hundereds of thousands lunar meteorites have been found. Over the vast stretch of time, probably at least one sample from every rocky planet or moon has reached all others.

Earth life is very hardy. It lives six miles undergound, at the boiling point of water, high in clouds, etc. It survived on a moon lander for a decade. Some could be likely to survive centuries if would take meteors to travere the solar system.

Re:entire solar system "infection" is possible (1)

cyclop (780354) | more than 6 years ago | (#24727561)

It survived on a moon lander for a decade.

This claim has recently been challenged [wikipedia.org] . However I'd love to search for Earth rocks on Mars and look at the surroundings -but it is probably a prohibitively time-consuming, complex search.

If we're talking about extremophiles (2, Interesting)

glitch23 (557124) | more than 6 years ago | (#24727587)

why not hypothesize that there could be life on the Moon? If we're going to think wild thoughts about where an extremophile can live compared to Earth then let's hypothesize they are right in a "back yard". They could survive on Moon dirt. Why not, right? Who says they need water? We keep thinking too much along the lines of what extremophiles on Earth need to survive. Off this Earth another organism no longer abides by the rules of this planet. Using the Moon as our target to find other life will save money when we try to allocate millions (for the Moon) instead of billions (for Titan) trying to find the new organisms, plus traveling to the Moon is much quicker than Titan. Disclaimer: I don't believe in ETL and, no, that isn't extract-transform-load.

Re:If we're talking about extremophiles (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24730477)

why not hypothesize that there could be life on the Moon?

OK, so let's hypothesize:

They could survive on Moon dirt. Why not, right?

Because they would've been irradiated to little pieces.

Who says they need water?

Nobody says this while hypothesizing about extraterrestrial life (except for those hypothesizing about extraterrestrial life that needs water to survive, of course). But water is an interesting substance when it comes to protect and stabilize the environment: Not only has solid water a lower density than liquid one, but it also does some tricks in filtering deadly rays, too.

Well, but putting all things water aside:

We keep thinking too much along the lines of what extremophiles on Earth need to survive. Off this Earth another organism no longer abides by the rules of this planet.

Since most of the rules of this planet are in fact rules of our universe, extraterrestrial life is of course bound to the rules of this planet, too. These are some of the universal rules (under the assumption that with "life" we mean living matter):

  • Life is based on chemicals and specific, controlled chemical reactions of these chemicals.
  • The chemicals life is based on must be somewhat complex (simple chemical compounds like water, carbon dioxide, methane etc. are well-studied and don't bear life).
  • Life increases entropy by consuming energy (unless it is in a resting state).

That said, complex chemicals degrade when bombarded with strong energy or particle rays. Energy and particle rays on the Moon are so strong that they will degrade any complex chemical very quickly. Therefore, no way for life on Moon's surface.

What about life inside the moon? You have to dig deep to find it, and then, deep under the surface there's little usable energy on a geologically inactive rock.

Using the Moon as our target to find other life will save money when we try to allocate millions (for the Moon) instead of billions (for Titan) trying to find the new organisms, plus traveling to the Moon is much quicker than Titan.

The infinitesimal chance of finding traces of life on Moon makes it a very, very bad target for a search for life. And a very expensive one, too, for the less likely it is that you can find life over there, the more likely you have to search looonger and dig deeeper. Titan, or Mars, for that matter, are relatively straight forward.

Disclaimer: I don't believe in ETL and, no, that isn't extract-transform-load.

I don't believe in extraterrestrial life, too, because that's not a religion. But I think it is very plausible that life may exist/may have existed on almost anything but our Moon ...

Meanwhile on the Titan version of Slashdot... (2, Funny)

blmatthews (231533) | more than 6 years ago | (#24728271)

Scientists are suggesting that it may be possible for extremophile life to exist on the 3rd planet from the sun. "Despite an oxidizing atmosphere, vast quantities of liquid and vaporous rock on the surface and in the atmosphere, and a ridiculously high surface temperature, it may be possible for some bizarre forms of life to exist on the planet."

Titan replies (1)

PPH (736903) | more than 6 years ago | (#24728823)

Nothing to see here. Move along.

probe (1)

Corson (746347) | more than 6 years ago | (#24728843)

they should send a probe carrying extremophiles to titan then come back in 1000 years to see how it panned out.

The REAL question (1)

spaceman375 (780812) | more than 6 years ago | (#24728855)

How long do you study a planet(esimal) before you can reliably conclude whether or not life has evolved there? This question is of utmost importance because if there IS native life it should be protected and even nurtured. However, if you CAN say it hasn't happened yet, then I feel it is a moral imperative to spread life to those environments. We absolutely should seed our extremophiles wherever they may live, as long as we aren't stomping on native life. How many iterations of seed and "bioshpere" crash do you think it may take on Venus before we establish something long-lived? I'd bet Mars will be easier, and lament that we will likely overrun anything Mars may have with terrestrial lifeforms. So frigid you're sterile, Titan-baby? Wait 'till the human race cuddles up to you. We'll fertilize you all sorts of ways.

Doubtful Life on Mars or Venus (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24729005)

Could we please stop mentioning Mars and Venus as a possible source of life in the solar system and diverting our resources there? Without an appreciable magnetosphere, Mars and Venus cannot shield developing life from cosmic rays. Sure, the same seeding that (possibly) took place on Earth likely took place on our neighboring planets too, but only Earth has the magnetosphere. Without a magnetosphere, surface life simply couldn't develop.

Extremophiles may exist on Mars or Venus, but they would have to be well below the surface, where we are unlikely to discover them without diverting an extraordinary amount of our resources to the task.

We (NASA, or all the world) would be better served searching for life on Titan or Europa. Sure, they get less energy from the Sun, but perhaps exothermic reactions occur sufficiently to allow life. Something is cracking the ice on Europa. Europa also has a magnetosphere, and what we believe to be a saltwater ocean. Protection from cosmic rays, plus saltwater oceans, plus four billion years equals a more interesting place to search than rusty dust on Mars.

Everybody talk about life on other planets... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24729429)

... but nobody does anything about it. How about an X Prize for the first team that can start life on another planet?

I am pretty sure this would be breaking the law, but whose law? Would that be DOCs (your deity of choice) law?

A meeting with Medusa (1)

Dissectional (528344) | more than 6 years ago | (#24730291)

Arthur Clarke's short story "A meeting with Medusa" focuses largely on gas-based organisms within the atmosphere of Jupiter. He also touches upon this idea for 'creatures' in "The city and the stars" whereby he describes a basic intelligence that has adapted to take advantage of helium and other gases and collect them in huge 'sacs' that allow it to wander about the atmosphere. The creatures feed off one another and methane-rich atmosphere.

He paints such a great image with these creatures to the point where they are completely believable and upon reflection plausible. Especially when he describes how fragile and 'dumb' they are. They come across as being similar to jellyfish, albeit floating about a gigantic atmosphere rather than meandering about the sea.

Wikipedia has a nice summary on the story: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Meeting_with_Medusa [wikipedia.org]

Mesophilic Bias (1)

Chicken_Kickers (1062164) | more than 6 years ago | (#24730337)

I work with hyperthermophiles (>90C)and I couldn't help think that we humans have a very mesophilic bias to living organisms. Just think, to these extremophiles, humans live in an inhospitable environment. My cultures of hyperthermophilic archaea won't even grow at temperatures less than 80C and in oxygenated atmosphere. Some even die off. I firmly believe that given even a small chance, life will independently evolve in other extraterrestrial bodies.

"In spite" of liquid methane? (1)

religious freak (1005821) | more than 6 years ago | (#24731195)

Yeah, the average person wouldn't be inclined to believe life would be more likely to be on a moon covered with methane, but we're GEEKS

We know that there is MORE likely to be life (of a particular type) because of the methane. At least I think we do...

C'mon editors, you should know us better than that.

When they move... (2, Funny)

sycodon (149926) | more than 6 years ago | (#24732273)

...do extremophiles have register with the local police?

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