Even though we’ve figured out how to put man on the moon, our entire lives on our phones, and the guy from The Apprentice in the White House, it’s pretty incredible that we still haven’t found concrete proof of life on other planets. I mean, yeah, scientists have offered tantalizing maybes over the years, like fossils on Mars and Earth-like rocky worlds, both of which could suggest that maybe there’s sorta the possibility of some living, breathing organism in the nether regions of the universe that we’ll never actually find.
But doesn’t it seem like at this juncture of space exploration, we really should’ve discovered some friggin’ three-eyed, tentacle-waving, anal-probing, “take-me-to-your-leader”-type aliens by now? I mean, we couldn’t even track down one of those suckers?
Still, we’ll never stop reporting on promising developments in humanity’s potentially futile search for extraterrestrials, even if they’re more of the, “Hey look, there’s a cool chemical on Saturn or something” variety than the, “OH SHIT, WE’RE BEING INVADED BY HEPTAPODS” kind. This is a story about the former.
Scientists have just revealed that Saturn’s moon Titan contains a molecule in its atmosphere that could help cells form, hinting that some kind of cellular life could exist on the moon itself, according to our smart friends at The Verge. The chemical compound is called vinyl cyanide, which is frighteningly close to the name of a punk band I saw at a basement show in 2003. Astronomers recently used the world’s most powerful telescope array in Chile to confirm that a whole lot of it is hanging out in Saturn’s upper atmosphere. The molecule, not the band, though the cold reaches of space would probably be more habitable than certain squats favored by crust punks.
You can read their whole report in the journal Science Advances, but it isn’t exactly Highlights magazine, so here are the crucial details: We know Titan has liquid methane lakes, and scientists believe methane goes through the same weather cycle as here on Earth. The methane turns into droplets in the atmosphere, per The Verge, which fall as rain to the surface. Vinyl cyanide may latch onto the droplets, land in Titan’s lakes, and form cell membranes.
Apparently Titan has a crap ton of vinyl cyanide—potentially enough to produce 10 million cell membranes per cubic centimeter in a huge lake on the moon’s surface. Researchers say these membranes could be flexible enough for the cells to divide and reproduce.
Hey, it’s a start. The next step is to send a probe to Titan’s methane lakes to see what’s actually going on inside. There’s been some discussion of that, study coauthor Maureen Palmer, an astrochemist at NASA, told The Verge, but nothing concrete yet. Still, Palmer spoke for us all when she said, “That’d be really cool to see.”
Yes. It would. And you know what else would be really cool to see? A goddamned alien already.