A team of scientists found that some remote planets may still host life event though they do not have liquid water on their surface like our planet does. Scientists based their findings on a computer-based model that showed Titan, planet Saturn’s largest moon, may host microbial life although its surface is studded with liquid methane lakes.
This new study, though, challenges current theories which state that we should look for alien life within the habitable zone of a remote star, rather than on icy space objects such as Titan.
The habitable zone of a star, also known as the Goldilocks zone, is an area within a planet orbiting a star can have liquid water on its surface, i.e. the zone is neither too hot nor too cold for water to evaporate, or, in the latter case, freeze.
Cornell researchers who have an expertise in chemical engineering and astronomy speculate that primitive cells that are permeable to liquid methane and do not necessarily require oxygen to survive may dwell on Titan.
Scientists claim that there is no difference between those cells and the primitive cells on Earth – they are also able to metabolize and reproduce, although Titan is a very harsh environment, and an extremely cold world.
The findings about the methane-based alien life forms that may survive temperatures of minus 292 degrees F, or 180 degrees C below zero, were published Feb. 27 in the journal Science Advances.
But researchers will have to wait some time before they learn whether their hypothesis was correct or not since NASA has only recently announced that it planned on sending an unmanned submarine to Titan’s largest methane lake (sea), the Kraken Mare.
Jonathan Lunine, co-author of the finding and member of the Cassini-Huygens mission team, discovered the methane seas on Titan. Soon after he had made the discovery, he received a grant from the Templeton Foundation to focus his research on alien life forms that may survive outside aqueous conditions.
For his research, Mr. Lunine sought assistance from Cornell University engineers to help him develop a computer model. Paulette Clancy, expert in molecular chemistry at Cornell University joined in the project.
However, Ms. Clancy acknowledged that their computer model may have limitations since none of the developers was a biologist, but she hopes that the tools the university provided and the team members’ interdisciplinary expertise might compensate the lack of a biologist’ expertise.
She also argued that the computer model was successful since none of the developers had preconceptions on how an outer space life form should look like. As a result, their model clearly showed that cells that aren’t based on water, but on liquid methane, may also be deemed living organisms.
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