Here’s the latest news (here and here) from space probe Cassini-Huygens. According to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology, the Cassini probe has found evidence of liquid methane on Saturn’s moon, Titan. In fact, it’s found whole lakes of the stuff. This is amazing just to think about – lakes on a moon.
This is real science fiction stuff. In the past we’ve been able to look in wonder at Moonscapes and Mars-scapes. But they always look so dreary and dry, like the fiercest desert on earth. But Titan’s lakes bring images of waves, floods, rain. Could there be methane snow? It boggles the mind.
What does this mean about the possibility of life? This article by noted science author Carl Zimmer looks at the difficulty of finding life on a world like Titan. It will be so different from Earth’s life that we might not even recognize it. And we don’t know what to look for as markers of life.
On Earth, our oxygen rich atmosphere is a one strong sign of life’s existence here. This article from the Jet Propulsion Lab talks about how to find markers like this. Scientists are even now searching among the stars for planets with life’s signatures.
But if there’s life on Titan, it’s chemistry would be completely different from ours. What chemical markers would give evidence of that life? Scientists are working on the problem to figure that out.