Monday, October 11, 2010
There are many theories about how exactly life began on our planet. The most commonly held belief of course, is that life began in the oceans. But a recent experiment using radio waves to simulate the effects of ultraviolet radiation from the sun striking the top of Saturn's largest moon Titan's thick atmosphere, has shown that life may actually have begun in the sky.
The experiment showed that when the ultraviolet radiation strikes Titan's atmosphere it can break apart molecules in the air, like molecular nitrogen and methane, leading to the production of amino acids and the nucleotide bases which make up DNA and RNA, without the need for liquid water.
More than merely having the potential to redefine how life began on earth, as if that weren't enough, if researchers could confirm the presence of nucleotide bases and amino acids in Titan's atmosphere, it would be one more piece of evidence pointing to the possible existence of life on Titan itself. Which is already seen by many as a potential home for some, perhaps alternative, form of life.
According to planetary scientist Jonathan Lunine, Cassini has already detected heavy ions in Titan's atmosphere which could potentially be the Nucleotide bases and amino acids found in the study, but the particles were too large for Cassini's instruments to identify. Lunine says that confirming these particles are actually being produced in Titan’s atmosphere will require an orbiter that can carry instruments 100 to 200 kilometers deeper than Cassini does into Titan’s haze layer.
For more about the potential for life on Titan read: Methanogenic Life on Titan?