Building Blocks for Surviving Titan

  • Released Monday, June 4th, 2018
  • Updated Wednesday, May 3rd, 2023 at 1:46PM
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Saturn’s moon, Titan, is hiding a chemical on its surface which has the possibility of creating the basis for life. Acrylonitrile is unique as it is an ingredient that can form structures similar to cell membranes, but it's tough enough to survive Titan's harsh conditions. Using data collected by the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile, NASA researchers identified the fingerprint of acrylonitrile in Titan's upper atmosphere. They believe that it has rained out onto the surface of Saturn as well, collecting in Titan's hydrocarbon lakes. Scientists speculate that in abundance, acrylonitrile can create a stable, spherical membrane that can foster life and protect it against Titan’s freezing surface. The findings expand our understanding of the chemical complexity of the solar system and the potential for life in the universe. Watch the video to learn more.

Acrylonitrile is a molecule that can form spherical membranes that could protect life from Titan's environment.

Acrylonitrile is a molecule that can form spherical membranes that could protect life from Titan's environment.

Titan lakes may contain acrylonitrile that rains out of the atmosphere. Ligeia Mare above is as large as Lakes Huron and Michigan combined.

Titan lakes may contain acrylonitrile that rains out of the atmosphere. Ligeia Mare above is as large as Lakes Huron and Michigan combined.

Titan is an icy moon with hydrocarbon lakes (dark spots) near the north pole and clouds made of methane.

Titan is an icy moon with hydrocarbon lakes (dark spots) near the north pole and clouds made of methane.

Titan is Saturn's largest moon and the second largest moon in the solar system.

Titan is Saturn's largest moon and the second largest moon in the solar system.

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Credits

Please give credit for this item to:
NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio

Titan images courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute:
Titan Up Front
Vast Ligeia Mare in False Color
Northern Summer on Titan
Colorful Colossuses and Changing Hues