Compound Suitable For Cell Membranes Found On Titan

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A study that has been recently published reveals that scientists have given detailed evidence about a chemical compound with the name of vinyl cyanide being found in the atmosphere of the moon of Saturn, Titan.

Aliens On Titan May Have Vinyl Cyanide

The presence of the Vinyl cyanide has intrigued scientists as in 2015 Cornell University researchers identified the compound as being a potential alternative to other components by the name of phospholipids. On Earth, where it is rocky and warm, there are phospholipids in the cell membranes of human beings. Scientists believe that on alien worlds that are cold, vinyl cyanide may just have the same purpose, which is to provide the cells with a defensive layer and basic structure.

Titan Has A Temperature Of About -290 Degrees Fahrenheit

Titan, of course, has to be one of the coldest regions as on average the temperature is said to be -290 degrees Fahrenheit on the surface. A researcher from NASA and lead author on the study, Maureen Palmer, started to dig through data from the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array. This was when she was an undergraduate researcher taking part in the Astrobiology Institutes research program at NASA. The Atacama Large Millimeter array only became operational in its full capacity during 2013 and it takes photographs of galaxies a long way away with up to ten times the sharpness than images that come from the Hubble Space Telescope.

Palmer had no interest in the sharp images for the research that she was undertaking. She took no interest in the planets and suns that were many millions of light years away from Earth and instead put her focus on the images taken of something that was much closer to Earth.

Titan Was Used As A Comparison To New-Born Planets

Long before the scientists could make use of ALMA to find and study objects in the distance in outer space, they relied on astronomers standardizing information that had been collected through the images. The researchers pointed the telescope towards something that was more well-known, and this was Titan. They then set about measuring the brightness. When they had collected the information they were then able to compare images of a new-born planet to Titan to work out the brightness of the subject.

It was not the target photos that Palmer looked at with interest; it was the by-product of Titan that caused a great deal of interest. Palmer said there is a lot of calibration data that is an untapped resource and scientists began to realize that it had only been used for calibration data but that it might also be used for astrobiology too. The team then set about digging into the data and they found evidence that was strong of vinyl cyanide at 200 kilometers in the atmosphere of Titan.

Studies that had been conducted prior to this using other instruments did not prove that the compound existed on Titan. It needed the higher sensitivity that ALMA had to find the compound that was hidden among the 95% nitrogen and the 5% methane composition in the atmosphere of Titan.

Methane Rain Might Have Dumped Vinyl Cyanide On Titan Surface

The scientists are now of the belief that perhaps methane rain might have carried vinyl cyanide to the surface of Titan. If this proves to be the case the scientists have estimated that on Ligeia Mare, the second biggest lake on Titan, there might be enough of the vinyl cyanide to form 10 million membranes for each cubic centimeter, in theory. This is assuming that the alien cells are the same size as red blood cells on human beings. Even if there is doubt over the numbers and there is less vinyl cyanide, the numbers might still be significant. The study revealed that on Earth in the coastal waters of the ocean there are around a million bacteria for each cubic centimeter.

Just as with many of the theories about alien life, Palmer says that there is some skepticism about the theory of the vinyl cyanide cell membrane. Cells with vinyl cyanide have not been found on any other planet or their moons, and right now cells that are vinyl cyanide based have not been found in existence.

Palmer said that there is definitely some controversy as they have not been made in the lab. She went on to say that it was not even sure if it was possible to form them. For now, people will have to wait to find out if there is alien life out here and perhaps looking through data is the way to find out. Palmer said that the data is available to the public to download onto their computer.

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