Language Selection

English French German Italian Portuguese Spanish

Has Huygens found life on Titan?

Filed under
Sci/Tech

IF LIFE exists on Titan, Saturn's biggest moon, we could soon know about it - as long as it's the methane-spewing variety. The chemical signature of microbial life could be hidden in readings taken by the European Space Agency's Huygens probe when it landed on Titan in January.

Titan's atmosphere is about 5 per cent methane, and Chris McKay of NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffet Field, California, thinks that some of it could be coming from methanogens, or methane-producing microbes. Now he and Heather Smith of the International Space University in Strasbourg, France, have worked out the likely diet of such organisms on Titan.

They think the microbes would breathe hydrogen rather than oxygen, and eat organic molecules drifting down from the upper atmosphere. They considered three available substances: acetylene, ethane and more complex organic gunk known as tholins. Ethane and tholins turn out to provide little more than the minimum energy requirements of methanogenic bacteria on Earth. The more tempting high-calorie option is acetylene, yielding six times as much energy per mole as either ethane or tholins.

McKay and Smith calculate that if methanogens are thriving on Titan, their breathing would deplete hydrogen levels near the surface to one-thousandth that of the rest of the atmosphere. Detecting this difference would be striking evidence for life, because no known non-biological process on Titan could affect hydrogen concentrations as much.

One hope for testing their idea rests with the data from an instrument on Huygens called the GCMS, which recorded Titan's chemical make-up as the probe descended. It will take time to analyse the raw data, partly because hydrogen's signal will have to be separated from those of other molecules. "Eventually, I hope, we will have numbers for at least upper limits for hydrogen," says Hasso Niemann of Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, principal investigator of the GCMS.

Acetylene could be easier to analyse, McKay says, and it too might betray life. "I would guess that there would be a similar fall-off of acetylene if the microbes are eating it." The work is to be published in the journal Icarus.

By Stephen Battersby
NewScientistSpace.com.

More in Tux Machines

Mastodon 2.0

About 6 months have passed since April, during which the major mainstream breakthrough of our decentralized social network took place. From 20,000 users to almost a million! What better time to run through a couple examples of what’s been introduced since then? Mastodon is defined by its focus on good user experience, polished design and superior anti-abuse tools. In that vein, the web app has received numerous updates. Using the latest browser features, the web app receives real push notifications, making it almost indistinguishable from a native mobile app. It works faster and looks smoother thanks to many performance and design improvements. Read more

Red Hat: Satellite, OpenShift, Government, SoftBank

  • A Red Hat Satellite tutorial to install an update server
    Is server patch management the best part of your job? Stop reading here. Many IT organizations struggle with OS patching processes. For Red Hat administrators who are willing to invest some initial energy to simplify later tasks, Satellite provides infrastructure lifecycle management, including capabilities for provisioning, reporting and configuration management. To this end, follow this Red Hat Satellite tutorial to set up a simple server for updates. Once we review how to install the basic update server, we'll create one example client.
  • Red Hat updates Gluster storage for OpenShift container apps
    Red Hat bolstered Gluster storage for its OpenShift Container Platform, adding iSCSI block and S3 object interfaces, as well as greater persistent volume density.
  • Red Hat to Cover Open Source Collaboration at Gov’t Symposium; Paul Smith Comments
    Red Hat (NYSE: RHT) is set to hold its annual symposium on federal information technology on Nov. 9 where the company will host discussions on open source collaboration and its potential benefits for government, GovCon Executive reported Oct. 11.
  • Red Hat’s Container Technologies and Knowledge Were Chosen by SoftBank to Embrace DevOps
    Red Hat, Inc. (NYSE: RHT), the world's leading provider of open source solutions, today announced that several of Red Hat’s open source technologies, including Red Hat OpenShift Container Platform, as well as the knowledge of Red Hat Consulting, were chosen by SoftBank Corp (“SoftBank”), a subsidiary of SoftBank Group Corp., to implement DevOps methodology for its Service Platform Division, IT Service Development Division, Information Technology Unit, and Technology Unit, the company’s in-house IT organization. This large, varied organization develops, maintains and operates SoftBank’s IT systems for internal work and operations, supporting 600 diverse systems.
  • Form 4 RED HAT INC For: Oct 17 Filed by: Kelly Michael A
  • Taking a Fresh Look at Red Hat, Inc. (RHT)

Security: Google Play, WPA2, FERC, HackerOne

  • 8 'Minecraft' apps infected with Sockbot malware on Google Play found adding devices to botnet

    Security researchers have discovered that at least eight malware-laced apps on Google Play Store are ensnaring devices to a botnet to potentially carry out distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) and other malicious attacks. These apps claimed to provide skins to tweak the look of characters in the popular Minecraft: Pocket Edition game and have been downloaded as many as 2.6 million times.

  • KRACK Vulnerability: What You Need To Know
    This week security researchers announced a newly discovered vulnerability dubbed KRACK, which affects several common security protocols for Wi-Fi, including WPA (Wireless Protected Access) and WPA2. This is a bad vulnerability in that it likely affects billions of devices, many of which are hard to patch and will remain vulnerable for a long time. Yet in light of the sometimes overblown media coverage, it’s important to keep the impact of KRACK in perspective: KRACK does not affect HTTPS traffic, and KRACK’s discovery does not mean all Wi-Fi networks are under attack. For most people, the sanest thing to do is simply continue using wireless Internet access.
  • FERC sets rules to protect grid from malware spread through laptops
    The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Thursday proposed new mandatory cybersecurity controls to protect the utility system from the threat posed by laptops and other mobile devices that could spread malicious software. The standards are meant to "further enhance the reliability and resilience of the nation's bulk electric system" by preventing malware from infecting utility networks and bringing down the power grid, according to the nation's grid regulator.
  • Hack These Apps And Earn $1,000 — Bug Bounty Program Launched By Google And HackerOne
  • Security Vulnerability Puts Linux Kernel at Risk

Smartphone Waste and Tizen News