Tudor Gabriel Mocioi
School: “Tudor Vianu” National High School of Computer Science
“Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, is well-known for its very special properties: it is the only moon in our solar system with a dense atmosphere, denser than the Earth’s (by approximately 60%). Not only its density, but also its composition make it fascinating: it consists largely of nitrogen and methane, along with solid water trapped in the internal structure of the moon. In my opinion, this composition provides the best chemical environment for a future formation of life, and researching would be the only way to confirm this theory.
Methane is the smallest organic compound, containing only one carbon atom, being the basis of all organic chemistry. Any hydrocarbon can be obtained from it through a series of reactions: its combustion leads to acetylene, which can further be transformed into chains and cycles of carbon atoms. The presence of water in the moon structure leads to a larger variety of organic compounds that can occur, such as lipids and carbohydrates, with energetic and deposit role in organisms.
Nitrogen also appears in many important compounds, such as amino acids. Amino acids can associate to form proteins, which have an essential structural role in living forms: they are the “building blocks” of organisms. Some other nitrogen-based compounds of great importance for life are the nitrogenous bases, present in RNA and DNA, the substances that govern cellular activity.
All the chemical conditions being provided, would life be able to appear on Titan? Unfortunately, not at the moment: the physical conditions are not favorable for this purpose. All the above reactions require high amounts of energy and catalysts, which are unavailable on Titan. The low temperature of the moon’s surface makes an even greater quantity of energy needed.
However, Earth is theorized to have had a similar beginning. How could it develop life? The answer is not yet completely known, but an obvious factor is the 10 times smaller distance to the Sun. Some say that, along with Sun’s expansion, Titan will develop life on its surface. But at that moment, the Sun will be a red giant and our planet will be long extinct. So how can we, as humans, explore this possibility before then?
An answer would be a permanent space settlement based on Titan, independent from Earth, specialized in life formation research, which will continue to exist even when our planet disappears. This settlement would not only observe the moon, but also provide the necessary energy to an enclosed area of Titan to research those processes. Of course, this courageous plan should be preceded by research performed by machines, such as Cassini, which should confirm the above possibilities through further analysis of the chemical processes of the moon.
In a nutshell, researching Titan may bring us answers to some philosophical matters, regarding the origin of life. In addition, Titan may be the escape of the human race from our dying planet, making it an intriguing target for scientific research."