We’ve been hunting for aliens for decades and we’ve mostly been disappointed. But Saturn’s moon Titan has been a promising potential cradle for weird, wild new forms of life, and another step towards discovering extraterrestrial species has just been discovered.
Titan, at first, seems an unlikely home for aliens. It’s like Earth in some respects — it has oceans, a dense atmosphere, and geological features we’d recognize. But you couldn’t kick back without a suit due to its freezing cold nitrogen and methane based ecosystem. So how can life live there? Vinyl cyanide!
Vinyl cyanide is fairly nasty on Earth, but on Titan it’s a potential key building block of life. On Earth, our cellular structures are built on lipids, think fats, fatty acids, and other naturally occurring molecule. On Titan, they’d need to be built on something else, and vinyl cyanide is the best candidate as it can serve a similar function to lipids in the freezing environment.
So the fact that Titan is chock-full of vinyl cyanide is another indicator that it may have life. Weird, unusual life that couldn’t exist on Earth, but life nonetheless. The next step to figuring out whether life exists and what it looks like is sending out a probe, having it float on Titan’s many bodies of liquid methane, and see what the local lifeforms do. Or maybe we could send a space freighter out there to poke around the first cave they find. Hey, it works in the movies, and it never goes wrong!