Astronomy

Thriving in a Sea of Methane

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Science  04 Nov 2005:
Vol. 310, Issue 5749, pp. 749
DOI: 10.1126/science.310.5749.749b

Life on Earth relies on energy from chemical reactions or from sunlight. Chemical reactions between organic compounds and hydrogen have been proposed as a possibility for powering life forms on the surface of Titan, Saturn's largest moon.

McKay and Smith calculated the amount of energy released by reactions of hydrocarbons present in Titan's dense smoggy atmosphere with hydrogen gas. They found that there would be more than enough fuel for specialized organisms such as the methanogenic bacteria found on Earth. Although methanogens could be sustained on Titan, it might be difficult for them to consume the chemicals, because organics may not dissolve readily in the methane lakes where life may reside. — JB

Icarus 178, 274 (2005).

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