Is Saturn's Moon Titan Capable of Possessing Organic Life?

Updated on June 18, 2018
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Alex has taught at two public schools, been accepted into two honorary societies, and traveled the Americas and Europe. He has his A.A.

Huygens' Close-Up Photograph of Titan

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Introduction

Orbiting around Saturn is a well-sized moon called Titan. What makes this moon such a special specimen when considering terrestrial bodies in our solar system which may be capable of harboring organic lifeforms? Titan has giant lakes on her surface and there is even rain on the planet! The lakes and rain are composed of liquid methane instead of liquid water, but Titan hasn't lost candidacy yet! It's been suggested that life on our planet may just be an example of complex chemistry; that is to state, maybe liquid water isn't the only liquid chemical that could potentially aid in the foundation of organic life!

Cassini's Views of Titam

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Delving Right In

First of all, let's begin by stating just how weird Titan is in our nearby galactic neighborhood. According to Rizk (2006), Titan may just be the "strangest" of Saturn's moons! Considering the uniqueness of Earth which only go alongside her great successes, Titan's interesting and different qualities may be a very good thing to note in our search for life! Life on Earth relies heavily on a large celestial body of solids as well as a relatively thick atmosphere. Titan is Saturn's biggest moon and it has a "thick nitrogen atmosphere" (Rizk, 2006). If there is life elsewhere in our solar system, the Titan seems like a prime candidate indeed!

One of Titan's Multiple Lakes

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All of this might mean that, even when considering unicellular life; Titan may be a more likely candidate than Mars. Mars is often said to have some atmosphere; but, that atmosphere would be very thin. This is one of the reasons that space agencies have resisted the urge to send astronauts to the red planet right away. Also, Mars doesn't seem to possess any large bodies of water like Titan does. Even if it does snow on Mars, rain may be seldom to nonexistent there. On Titan, liquid methane falls from the sky. In fact, Rizk (2006) notes that methane on Titan exists not only in its liquidic state on Titan - but, also in its gaseous and solidic states too! This is just like water on Earth. On our home planet, water exists as a solid (e.g. ice), as a gas (e.g. clouds), and even as a liquid (e.g. oceans).

Image of Clouds on Titan

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Something else that Titan has in common with Earth is the noted absence of obvious craters on her surface. Rizk (2006) makes mention that this is not the norm for celestial bodies in our neck of the woods. We know that Earth's strikingly unique qualities could be what has permitted her to be the birthplace for living organisms. Is it not then possible that Titan's shared unique qualities could allow her to hold organic life too? We're not sure, but it seems possible! My readers should take notice of one of the limitations of modern astronomy; we lack close up images of most of the planets and moons in our solar system! Just because we have yet to discover life on another world doesn't mean that it isn't out there! A lot of very hard work needs to be continued and accomplished before we can even begin to be sure of the possession or lack of life on other bodies nearby.

Saturn Chilling Being Her Moon Titan

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Super Similar to Earth?

What else does Titan have in common with Earth? Rizk (2006) points out that Titan's ice/ammonia volcanoes give evidence to some kind of energy in Titan's inner body, and Talcott (2010) informs us that Titan's surface environment actually changes with her seasons. The fact that Titan's is seemingly very geologically active is a very interesting feature. Why is this interesting? Mars along with many of the close planetary satellites are thought to be relatively dead in a geological sense. Perhaps things like tectonic activity, inner energies like our Earth's core, and active changes in weather might all be items which help in the development of life.Jupiter's moon Io does have volcanoes; but, she also has little atmosphere. The planet Mercury is tectonically active (Loff, 2017); but, there is no actively changing weather patterns on the scorched rock. Titan could have life. We'll just have to work hard and then see!

Color Enhanced Photograph of Titan's Surface

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Concluding Thoughts

So, what do you all think? Could Titan really harbor life? Do you believe somewhere else in our solar system could be a better candidate for cradling lifeforms? Is there anything in this article that I missed!? Please let me know all of your thoughts and feelings in the comments below!

References

Loff, Sarah. (2017). Tectonically Active Planet Mercury. Retrieved from https://www.nasa.gov/image-feature/tectonically-active-planet-mercury


Rizk, Bashar. (2006). Saturn's TITAN REVEALS earthlike surprises. Astronomy, 34(5), 40-45.


Talcott, Richard. (2010). Seasons change on Saturn's Titan. Astronomy, 38(2), 20.

Share your opinion!

Do you suspect that there is life on Titan?

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© 2017 Alexander James Guckenberger

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    • Guckenberger profile imageAUTHOR

      Alexander James Guckenberger 

      22 hours ago from Maryland, United States of America

      Thinking about it all just fascinates me. Thanks for the comment Kelley. :)

    • profile image

      Kelley Marks 

      27 hours ago

      Titan is a lot like Earth used to be, and these days it is truly a chilly, bizarre place. If we find any life there, it will probably be beneath the surface, ditto for Mars and many other planets and moons. Later!...

    • Guckenberger profile imageAUTHOR

      Alexander James Guckenberger 

      3 months ago from Maryland, United States of America

      Credence2, who knows what we'll find. It may or may not be life, but I am excited nonetheless. I really want us to explore the moon more too. It's a complicated world, and there are still some interesting possibilities for discovery.

    • profile image

      Credence2 

      3 months ago

      I, too am fascinated by Titan. But I am less optimistic about life there as it would have to "not life as we know it", carbon based oxygen/water as solvent life forms.

      However, some interesting things to note. I can't think of any other body in the solar system outside the earth with a substantial nitrogen atmosphere.

      The atmospheric density is 1.5 times greater that earth at sea level. I think about flying through such a thick atmosphere and low gravity with cardboard wings.

      The methane, cold around minus 300F, the lack of gaseous oxygen makes it a poor candidate for existence among the only forms of life of which are familiar.

      But, life based on an entirely different template than one used for our terrestrial yardstick Who knows?

      I would like to see greater exploration of the surface and evaluation of surface material. I hope to witness such exploration within my lifetime to get answers to many questions regarding this most interesting celestial body.

    • Guckenberger profile imageAUTHOR

      Alexander James Guckenberger 

      5 months ago from Maryland, United States of America

      Absolutely. Your considerations of the atmosphere are very on point.

    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 

      5 months ago from Long Island, NY

      I found this a very interesting and well researched article Alex. The possibility of other types of life forms is something people don’t usually consider. We think of life as we know it on earth. But with the existence of liquid methane on Titan, it could be possible that a life form with a different chemical makeup exists. Maybe just single celled organisms, of course.

      In addition, you mentioned the heavy atmostshere on Titan. That protects it from meteors. As you said, there is a lack of crators. So this makes it clear that the atmosphere is protecting Titan in the same way that our atmosphere on earth causes most meteorites to burn up before hitting.

      If any living organisms would ever have a chance of getting started, this protection helps the survival long enough for evolution to take over.

    • Guckenberger profile imageAUTHOR

      Alexander James Guckenberger 

      10 months ago from Maryland, United States of America

      This is definitely true Robert!

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 

      10 months ago

      Yes, if nothing else it makes for good fiction.

    • Guckenberger profile imageAUTHOR

      Alexander James Guckenberger 

      10 months ago from Maryland, United States of America

      Robert, that's awesome! I will have to check that out soon. ^_^

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 

      10 months ago

      He described them in his series "Cosmos". He came up with 3 theoretical life forms named; Sinkers, Floaters, and Hunters. Sinkers were like large plankton, organisms that floated, Hunters were winged creatures that fed on the other organisms. There is an article by Adolf Schaller, Creating Life on Gas Giants, http://www.planetary.org/blogs/guest-blogs/2013/20... that goes into some detail and has some illustrations.

    • Guckenberger profile imageAUTHOR

      Alexander James Guckenberger 

      10 months ago from Maryland, United States of America

      Robert, I don't know. What did Carl Sagan say about Jupiter?

    • Guckenberger profile imageAUTHOR

      Alexander James Guckenberger 

      10 months ago from Maryland, United States of America

      Catherine, and it has given us so many beautiful images! The wonder we can feel is amazing. :)

    • Guckenberger profile imageAUTHOR

      Alexander James Guckenberger 

      10 months ago from Maryland, United States of America

      Cedric, I do feel that we need to expand.

    • CYong74 profile image

      Kuan Leong Yong 

      10 months ago from Singapore

      I remember being so excited about this news when Cassini first reached Titan. Not much exciting development, in the life finding aspect, since. But who knows? Maybe a few thousand years down the road when the Earth becomes too hot, our descendants would all be migrating to Titan.

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 

      10 months ago

      This article explains the argument for the possibility of life on Titan. Do you know of any speculations on what a complex life form would be like on Titan? Carl Sagan in Cosmos gave some speculation on life forms that could possibly live on Jupiter.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image

      Catherine Giordano 

      10 months ago from Orlando Florida

      I think the universe and our own solar system harbors so many mysteries. The Cassini mission which orbited Saturn 292 times has gathered so much info on the planet and its 60 moons.

    • Guckenberger profile imageAUTHOR

      Alexander James Guckenberger 

      10 months ago from Maryland, United States of America

      K S Lane, it seems to me that one or two very interesting stories places something into the public awareness, but there are so many neat things which slip the mainstream's radar! Thanks for the comment hun.

    • K S Lane profile image

      K S Lane 

      10 months ago from Melbourne, Australia

      This is really interesting. I had no idea that Titan was even a candidate for supporting life, much less a viable one. I'm surprised I haven't heard more about it, considering that there's been so much about Mars in the news recently. Thanks for sharing!

    • Guckenberger profile imageAUTHOR

      Alexander James Guckenberger 

      10 months ago from Maryland, United States of America

      Thanks for you're awesome comments! :)

    • profile image

      Elijah A Alexander Jr 

      10 months ago

      And with what you just said, so it seems. Thanks for making that clear.

    • Guckenberger profile imageAUTHOR

      Alexander James Guckenberger 

      10 months ago from Maryland, United States of America

      What's interesting about what you're communicating is that I think we agree, at least on some level. When I teach about star development, I inform people that stars "reproduce" by way of stellar mitosis. :)

    • The0NatureBoy profile image

      Elijah A Alexander Jr 

      10 months ago from Washington DC

      According to my understanding of life, everything in existence is what we would call a living entity and composed of multiple other living entity types.

      There is the saying that goes something like "as is the macro so is the micro" suggesting nothing in the entire "Zeroverse" [universe it's commonly called] can be considered a none-living entity. Existence is life.

      Take our bodies for instance. Every microscopic entity is a form of life with an independent life-force and our own life-force running through them. Related to the zeroverse each of the solar bodies are like one of our organs consisting of multiple living entities working together to accomplish a purpose. Therefore, logic would tell us all planets have life but, as many Science Fiction stories reveals, they have to take their food and breathing substance with them.

      What we call disease in our bodies is only living entities out of it's normal locality and if we learned to, via our energies, return them to their proper location the discomfort disappears. Only because human have exalted ourselves above all life we tend to believe earth contains the only live forms in all of this tiny zeroverse.

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