Lichens on Saturn's Moon Titan?

Titan's Ethane Lake: This artist's concept shows a mirror-smooth lake on the surface of the smoggy moon Titan. Cassini scientists have concluded that at least one of the large lakes observed on Saturn's moon Titan contains liquid hydrocarbons, and have positively identified ethane. (Credit: NASA/Karl Kofoed)
Research by astrobiologist William Bains suggests that if life has evolved on the frozen surface of Saturn's moon, Titan, it would be strange, smelly and explosive compared to life on Earth. Dr Bains present his work at the National Astronomy Meeting in Glasgow on April 13.

"Hollywood would have problems with these aliens" says Dr. Bains. "Beam one onto the Starship Enterprise and it would boil and then burst into flames, and the fumes would kill everyone in range. Even a tiny whiff of its breath would smell unbelievably horrible. But I think it is all the more interesting for that reason. Wouldn't it be sad if the most alien things we found in the galaxy were just like us, but blue and with tails?"

"Life needs a liquid; even the driest desert plant on Earth needs water for its metabolism to work. So, if life were to exist on Titan, it must have blood based on liquid methane, not water. That means its whole chemistry is radically different. The molecules must be made of a wider variety of elements than we use, but put together in smaller molecules. It would also be much more chemically reactive," said Dr Bains.

Energy is another factor that would affect the type of life that could evolve on Titan. With Sunlight a tenth of a percent as intense on Titan's surface as on the surface of Earth, energy is likely to be in short supply.

"Rapid movement or growth needs a lot of energy, so slow-growing, lichen-like organisms are possible in theory, but velociraptors are pretty much ruled out," said Bains.

Story source:
Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) (2010, April 12). Life on Saturn's moon Titan: Stand well