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          Saturn’s moon Titan could have the ingredients for life

          When it comes to searching for evidence that there was once life outside of Earth in our solar system, most research is focused on Mars or, more recently, on the intriguing findings on Venus. But there are other places where life could potentially have blossomed as well, and a new study suggests that Saturn’s moon Titan could be a prime location for habitability.

          Researchers from Canada’s Western University used data from Cassini’s Visible and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer to look at both visible light and infrared images of Titan, allowing them to peer beneath the moon’s thick atmosphere to discover more about this strange location.

          “It’s wild. There’s no other place like Titan in the solar system,” assistant professor of planetary sciences, Catherine Neish said in a statement. “There’s more sand on Titan per area than anywhere else. And Titan has weather. It’s not unlike the Earth in that way.”

          These six infrared images of Saturn’s moon Titan represent some of the clearest, most seamless-looking global views of the icy moon’s surface produced so far. The views were created using 13 years of data acquired by the Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIMS) instrument on board NASA’s Cassini spacecraft.
          These six infrared images of Saturn’s moon Titan represent some of the clearest, most seamless-looking global views of the icy moon’s surface produced so far. The views were created using 13 years of data acquired by the Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIMS) instrument onboard NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. NASA/JPL-Caltech/Stéphane Le Mouélic, University of Nantes, Virginia Pasek, University of Arizona

          The sand forms desert-like regions around the equator of the moon, but at higher latitudes toward the poles it becomes wetter, with surface streams which cut through the sand. However, despite the similarities of weather patterns, there are some stark differences between Earth and Titan in terms of the composition of that weather, as Neish explained: “It’s just that the ingredients are all wrong. It has methane rain and streams cutting through the surface and organic sand getting blown around. It’s still very active just like it is here on Earth.”

          The study found that when the moon is impacted, the craters expose fresh water ice from the crust which sits beneath the sand. This is a valuable source of information as they could potentially show whether there was ancient life frozen at the bottom of the craters. This encourages researchers to look in new locations for potential signs of ancient life.

          “I think more and more, we’re seeing a false equivalency between life and Mars. The recent findings about Venus and all the new things we’re learning about it once being an ocean world is another game-changer,” said Neish. “Finally, people are saying, in our search for life in the universe, we really need to focus on a lot more places, and not just Mars. And that includes NASA sending the Dragonfly mission to Titan.”

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