Today’s Weird Science

| February 13, 2020

Titan as seen through Saturn’s Rings

Yeah, I’m a part-time geek. Love the Science Channel’s How the Universe Works, CERN experiments and the like. Even have sort of a grasp on string theory and quantum mechanics, up to a point anyway. Albert E. was right as far as he went, but, never mind. Came across this.

By Rafi Letzter

Saturn’s most Earth-like moon looks a bit less likely to host life, thanks to quantum mechanics, the weird rules that govern subatomic particles.

Titan, the second largest moon in our solar system after Jupiter’s Ganymede, is unique in two ways that have convinced some researchers that this moon might host extraterrestrial life: It’s the only moon in our solar system with a dense atmosphere, and it’s the only body in space, besides Earth, known to definitely have pools of liquid on its surface. In Titan’s case, those pools are frigid lakes of hydrocarbons, closer to the gasoline in a car than the oceans on Earth. But some researchers have suggested that complex structures could arise in those pools: bubbles with special properties that mimic ingredients found to be necessary for life on our planet.

On Earth, lipid molecules (fatty acids) can spontaneously arrange themselves into bubble-shaped membranes that form the barriers around the cells of all known life-forms. Some researchers think this was the first necessary ingredient for life as it formed on Earth.

On Titan, researchers have speculated in the past, an equivalent set of bubbles might have emerged, these consisting of nitrogen-based molecules called azotosomes.

But for those structures to arise naturally, the physics has to work just right in the conditions actually present on Titan: temperatures of about minus 300 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 185 degrees Celsius), without liquid water or atmospheric oxygen.

Previous studies, using molecular dynamics simulations — a technique often used to examine the chemistry of life — suggested that such bubble structures would arise and become common on a world like Titan. But a new paper*, published Jan. 24 in the journal Science Advances, suggests that those earlier simulations were wrong.
Using more complex simulations involving quantum mechanics, the researchers in the new paper studied the structures in terms of their “thermodynamic viability.”

Here’s what that means: Put a ball at the top of a hill, and it’s likely to end up at the bottom, a position of lower energy. Similarly, chemicals tend to arrange themseIves in the simplest, lowest-energy pattern. The researchers wanted to know whether the azotosomes would be the simplest, most efficient arrangement for those nitrogen-bearing molecules.

Titan represents a “strict test case for the limits of life,” the researchers wrote in their paper. And in this role, the moon fails. Azotosomes, the simulation showed, just aren’t thermodynamically viable on Titan.

This will affect NASA’s experiment planning of it’s Dragonfly mission to Titan, planned for the 2030s. Read the rest here: Fox Science News

*For light reading the article refers to Science Advances’ paper, “Can polarity-inverted membranes self-assemble on Titan?”
By H. Sandström and M. Rahm

Category: Blue Skies

Comments (22)

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  1. Mason says:

    Fascinating. If people spent their money on exploration instead of carbon credits, imagine what we could discover. Al Gore alone could fund a mission to Titan.

    • 5th/77th FA says:

      (In his best Mr. Spock voice) Fascinating indeed. Now beam me back up Mr. Scott and have Mr. Sulu set a course for Venus. I’m wid you Mason, quit pissing away money (taxpayers money) enriching yourself, and get serious about the “Final Frontier.” No way our little blue orb is the only place where there are creatures. As I’ve said before, I think when ET flies past Earth, they lock the doors and keep their eyes straight ahead.

      Hope that there is not a test on this one tho. My small grasp on most of this came from Penny of Big Bang Fame. Particles move thru in a wave (HT to Sheldon Cooper), I was married to what became a fatty ass, and have been in some very frigid zones.

      • AW1Ed says:

        Just to mess your mind, ’cause you know I love you like a brother, in QM there is no “Big Bang.” The entire mass of the Universe (don’t get me started on the Multiverse) was about the size of a pin head when it exploded, and since atmosphere hadn’t been invented yet there was no “Bang.”
        So “Small Silent” would be more accurate.
        There, feel better?

        “The best argument there is intelligent life in the Universe is they haven’t tried to contact us.”

        Relax, nice gun porn tomorrow.

        • RGR 4-78 says:

          “The entire mass of the Universe (don’t get me started on the Multiverse) was about the size of a pin head when it exploded, and since atmosphere hadn’t been invented yet there was no “Bang.”
          So “Small Silent” would be more accurate.”

          So you are saying it was the “silent but deadly expansion”?

          • AW1Ed says:

            You Sir are a budding Theoretical Physicist.
            Sea Story Alert!
            One of my P-3 Flight Engineers (enlisted guy up front with the pilots to keep an eye on fuel, engine performance and more) had guts so foul when he let one loose on final approach the pilots had to go on O2, declare an emergency (fumes in the cockpit) and wave off the landing. This of course excited all the emergency folks at the airfield, and we were met with an entire Emergency Response Team when we did land.
            Glad I didn’t have to write that one up.

            So yeah, “silent but deadly explosion” works.

        • Ex-PH2 says:

          A recent discovery was recently confirmed about The Strange Things in This Universe

          Black holes create a drag that warps space time around the black hole itself.

          And Tabby’s Star is still a puzzle palace to everyone observing it, but Tabby herself has adopted the star as her very own.

        • 11B-Mailclerk says:

          Early universe density, post atom formation and early expansion, was high enough to propagate sound. It eventually dropped below that required, and things went quiet.

    • ninja says:

      Am smiling, Mason, because you said “Al Gore” and “Titan” in one sentence.


      Get it?


  2. ninja says:

    Well now I know those Aliens featured on History Channels “Ancient Aliens” did not come from Titan! (I really enjoy that show and “Project Bluebook”).


    Thank You, Ed, for sharing the interesting read about Titan.

    • Synloy un says:

      Just for your info;THe great courses have a good selection of studies in those fields.ANd even the likes o f me can understand them.WEll mostly

  3. Thunderstixx says:

    I watch a ton of the same stuff you do Ed.
    I have Prime and have signed up for Magellan. Magellan is a great platform for all kinds of documentaries.
    I also watch a ton of YouTube where you can watch all of the “How the Universe Works” which is my favorite.
    Mike Rowe narrates the series and he is absolutely great at it !!!
    Since I am a wannabe Official Space Cadet it rubbed off on my daughter who went to the Space X Boca Chica landing facility back in January.
    She is studying premed and taking Astrophysics courses at the same time… Her goal is to be a space physician….
    I’m living vicariously through my kids…..
    *DISCLAIMER* They aren’t MY braincells !!!

    • AW1Ed says:

      Heh. I thought how can anything grow in hydrocarbons? Then I remembered my Dad’s sailboat from many years ago- had a one lung “Iron Genny” that wasn’t properly preserved for the off season, and he had to pay to have the diesel fuel system cleaned because of fungal growth.

      So there we are, life in a hydrocarbon environment.

      I’ll post more of these as I come across them, since there seems to be an interest.

    • 11B-Mailclerk says:

      Once upon a time, I worked for a minor subcontractor of electronics components.

      Some things I made with my own hands (and CNC machines) are currently in space, doing cool things. One set went to Mars.


    • The Other Whitey says:

      I’m gonna have to get in on that. My oldest little girl wants to be an astronaut.

    • Ex-PH2 says:

      Stixx, you aren’t going to start calling your daughter Bones, are you?

  4. The Other Whitey says:

    There is no life on Titan. It is not the fortress world of the Grey Knights space marine chapter. The Grey Knights do not exist. In fact, Titan does not exist. Any citizen on Holy Terra, Sacred Mars, or elsewhere within the Sol System who asks about that extra moon orbiting Saturn will be interrogated and summarily executed by the Imperial Inquisition. The Emperor protects.

    40K fans will get the reference.

    • 11B-Mailclerk says:

      Did you see the “Orange Emperor” in that parade in Europe?


      • The Other Whitey says:

        I saw it right here on TAH. Whaddaya say the Leman Russ replaces the Abrams as the Army’s Main Battle Tank?

        “What I cannot defeat with words, I shall crush with the tanks of the Imperial Guard!”
        —Macharius, Lord Commander Solar of the Imperial Guard and conqueror of a thousand worlds

        Holy shit, I’m going full nerd today.

  5. Anyone remember the Betty and Barney abduction back in 1963 or 1964 and Betty drew a map of the star system that her abductors gave her and many years later, the overlay of the system matched what she had written on the paper. I think that paper was used over the years and it finally hit pay dirt. Barney was a mail carrier at the time, and both passed on years ago.

  6. C2Show says:

    The search for life continues on Titan. I believe another satellite on Jupiter has possible support for life…Io or something like that. They use to compare california methane lake to titans oceans. Dont think there is life on Titan.

    Willing to bet they find 9th (or 10th planet based on dwarf planet bs) before they find life.