July 26, 2005
But Can They Weld?

Forget Mars, if two scientists are right, we may end up finding life on Titan first:

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 won't happen quickly, since the data has to be gone over quite a bit to separate the hydrogen stuff from the rest, but apparently there is a strong possibility that this will work.

These won't be your ancestor's life-forms though. It's speculated that they won't be much more than microbes, and eating acetylene for energy.

Posted by scott at July 26, 2005 09:02 AM

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While it's great news, that might not end up being a bad strategy - find a planet with a large amount of organic molecules, then look for life. If we assume that life did spring from the muck, as it were, based on the random assembly of molecules that had a mildly increased chance of causing themselves to replicate (repeat some huge number of times with added complexity every so often and you get life), then planets and moons like this would be ideal places to find life.

Also, that strategy might work well in looking (well into the future) at other galaxies for signs of life as well, along with giving a bit more support for evolution.

Of course, it's not nearly as fun as finding little green/gray/anime animal/people crosses floating out there somewhere.

Posted by: ronaprhys on July 26, 2005 10:07 AM
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