Add Titan to the list of bodies in this solar system that may currently harbor extraplanetary life.
With the recent announcement that the fundamental elements for life have been spotted in the Orion nebula, and given that organic matter has been found in the form of hydrocarbons on asteroids, it would be nice to see NASA abandon plans for manned missions to the Moon and Mars, and instead divert their limited budget to autonomously exploring either Ganymede, Europa, or now Titan.
My preference would be Europa due to the oxygen in the moon’s atmosphere and the evidence that the seas are warmed by the moon’s core (the ice cracks and re-fills, suggesting water is sloshing up; and the cracks are smooth suggesting the water sloshing up is melting the surrounding ice before losing energy to space and freezing).
The above mentioned moons give every indication that they were formed from the accretion disk that formed this solar system, and are therefore very old and comprised of similar materials to this good Earth.
Very old oceans in my mind equals potential for life when accompanied by a magnetosphere.
A magnetosphere is important to shield DNA from the cosmic rays that inhibit proper genetic duplication within the cell. Without a magnetic shield repulsing cosmic rays, life as we know it would gradually succomb to the effects of detrimental genetic mutation.
Genetic mutations are of course either beneficial, that is leading to the likelihood of an organism reproducing, detrimental, that is leading to the likelihood of an organism not reproducing, or a mutation may have no effect on the possibility of an organism reproducing, such as determining hair color in humans.
Cosmic rays interfere with the mechanisms through which the cells clone themselves, mitosis (anaphase, telephase, metaphase, prophase – thanks Mr. Vandiver, I still remember). Without proper mitosis functions, the cells cannot reproduce to repair and grow new tissue and the organism dies from organ failure.
It is this fear that puts the dream of manned exploration on Mars out of NASA’s budget. It simply costs too much to launch a vehicle with the proper magnetic shielding to Mars, a planet with no appreciable magnetosphere. And this is where the purpose of NASA’s dream eludes me, why explore a planet that has no ability to shield itself from cosmic rays given what we know about their destructive effect on mitosis?
To simply go there because we can isn’t a good reason. “Because humans are explorers” is also a poor reason, we cannot colonize Mars because there is not a suitable atmosphere and we cannot grow food there. Sure, we could live in domes, but then we don’t do that on the Moon where we could at least be harvesting the valuable helium-3.
And if we say go to the Moon first, harvest the helium-3 and use it as fuel to launch a vehicle already in earth orbit to Mars, I again come back to, “why?” We can’t live on Mars, and if we want to harvest resources on Mars, we should instead just go further to the asteroid belt where precious metals exist in abundance. And we should go there by sending robots instead of humans.
“Tongue tied and twisted, just an Earth-bound misfit, I” – Pink Floyd
We really don’t know what creates a magnetosphere, the historical theory being that Earth has a solid iron core essentially acting as a huge magnet may be wrong. We can’t image the core, we can only send radio waves through it and measure their reverberations and postulate what comprises the core as the radio waves will reflect differently along density boundaries. We don’t know why the core is still hot, if it was iron it should have cooled long ago. Likely, there is more thorium and uranium down there than we’ve guessed and the core is hot due to radiation.
One theory of magnetosphere creation is that salt water oceans generate it. I like this theory. It accounts very nicely for our observations. Earth, Europa, Ganymede, and Titan all have strong magnetospheres and all have large salt water oceans. The bodies in the solar system with relatively undetectable magnetospheres such as Mars have no large salt water oceans.
Billions of years, salt water oceans, and a magnetosphere? Explore them all for signs of life, the formula worked on Earth and in my opinion it’s likely it has worked on the other asteroid impacted, old, salt watered bodies in this close region of the Universe.
NASA – use your budget to develop the technologies necessary to send autonomous vehicles under the seas of Saturn’s and Jupiter’s moons, conduct exploratory operations, and beam the data back, and don’t forget your towels froods!