UT: Titan’s Atmosphere Could Produce Building Blocks of Life

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UT: Titan’s Atmosphere Could Produce Building Blocks of Life

Post by bystander » Fri Oct 08, 2010 12:20 am

Titan’s Atmosphere Could Produce Building Blocks of Life
Universe Today | Astrobiology | 07 Oct 2010
Saturn’s moon Titan has long thought to be an analog of early Earth, and a recent experiment demonstrates that amino acids and nucleotide bases — which are the basic building blocks of life on Earth – could very easily be under production in Titan’s hazy atmosphere. “Our intention was to figure out what goes on in Titan’s atmosphere using high resolution mass spectrometry,” said Sarah Horst, from the University of Arizona, a member of an international team conducting the research. “We found there could be a high number of some incredibly complex molecules being created.”

Two recent exciting discoveries led the team to try and find out more about Titan’s atmosphere: first, the discovery of high energy oxygen ions flowing into Titan’s atmosphere, and second, that there are high heavy molecular ions in the atmosphere – neither of which were expected.

“When you put two discoveries together, that leads us to possibility that oxygen can get incorporated into these large molecules and in turn, that may be incorporated into life,” Horst said in press briefing at the American Astronomical Society’s Division of Planetary Sciences meeting this week.

The intense radiation that hits the top of Titan’s thick atmosphere is capable of breaking apart even very stable molecules. The international team wanted to understand what happens as these molecules are broken apart in the atmosphere.
Formation Of Amino Acids And Nucleotide Bases In A Titan Atmosphere Simulation Experiment - S Horst et al Building Blocks of Life in Titan's Atmosphere?
Science Now | Science Shots | 07 Oct 2010
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Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona/DLR
It's unlikely that the process produced Titanians, but experiments simulating the chemistry of the dense air on Saturn's biggest moon have yielded some of the basic buildings blocks of life. Today at the American Astronomy Society's Division for Planetary Sciences meeting in Pasadena, California, researchers described how they used radio-frequency radiation—a more convenient substitute for ultraviolet sunlight—to turn methane, nitrogen, and carbon monoxide (the main constituents of Titan's atmosphere) into glycine and alanine, the two smallest amino acids. The experiments also produced cytosine, adenine, thymine, and guanine, the four most basic components of DNA. And they created uracil, a precursor of RNA. The researchers said that because they achieved the reactions without the presence of liquid water, it's possible life could have sprung forth on Earth not in the seas, as commonly assumed, but perhaps in the planet's early atmosphere—a considerably thinner version of the fog enveloping Titan today.
Titan’s Haze May Hold Ingredients for Life
University of Arizona | 07 Oct 2010
Simulating possible chemical processes in the atmosphere of Titan, Saturn's largest moon, a UA-led planetary research team found amino acids and nucleotide bases in the mix - the most important ingredients of life on Earth.

In an experiment exploring the chemical processes that might be going on in the hazy atmosphere enshrouding Saturn's largest moon, a University of Arizona-led team of scientists discovered a variety of complex organic molecules – including amino acids and nucleotide bases, the most important ingredients of life on Earth.

"Our team is the first to be able to do this in an atmosphere without liquid water. Our results show that it is possible to make very complex molecules in the outer parts of an atmosphere," said Sarah Hörst, a graduate student in the UA's Lunar and Planetary Lab, who led the international research effort together with her adviser, planetary science professor Roger Yelle.

The molecules discovered include the five nucleotide bases used by life on Earth to build the genetic materials DNA and RNA: cytosine, adenine, thymine, guanine and uracil, and the two smallest amino acids, glycine and alanine. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins.
Saturn Moon's Atmosphere May Hold Ingredients for Life
Space.com | Science | 07 Oct 2010
The hazy atmosphere of Saturn's largest moon Titan may contain complex organic molecules that are the building blocks of life as we know it, a new study suggests.

In the lab, researchers simulated possible chemical reactions occurring high up in the nitrogen-rich atmosphere of Titan. They found that various complex molecules, such as amino acids and nucleotide bases, could form without much prodding.

"We can do this entirely in an atmosphere," researcher Sarah Horst of the University of Arizona said in a statement. "We don't need liquid water, we don't need a surface. We show that it is possible to make very complex molecules in the outer parts of an atmosphere."

The molecules synthesized in the experiment include the five nucleotide bases found in the genetic code of life on Earth — cytosine, adenine, thymine, guanine and uracil — and the two smallest amino acids, glycine and alanine, researchers said.