Saturns Moon Titan has had a long journey in the constant consciousness of science since its discovery in 1655 by French Astronomer Christiaan Huygens. The mystery of Titan was comparable according to many astronomers to another astronomical body which has constantly evaded even the most penetrating scrutiny of science, Venus. And as astronomers look closer at this mysterious moon of water orbiting Saturn, it appears the case for life is quickly coming together. Not only may there be an ocean beneath the icy surface, there may actually be quite a bit more.
In 2005 NASA’s Huygens space probe landed on the surface of Titan and began photographing the rocky surface. As the first photos started coming back of the mysterious planet’s composition, NASA scientists were surprised to say the least. What they had expected was a dead moon just like so many others they had explored. instead, they discovered rocks and something else that was a prerequisite to life – water in its liquid form.
The rocks the probe photographed showed signs of erosion meaning that the water not only existed on the surface as an inert and distant object, but as a flowing river constantly moving actively – giving further evidence of life. Just as a stream in the midst of a desert is an oasis giving form to life, this too was seen as a possibility that life may exist not only on Titan but in fact could be interpreted as the fundamental step toward proving once and for all even if we are the only intelligent life in our own system that the prebiotic conditions capable of creating life can exist elsewhere in the universe – even on a moon too small to see from even a single light year away, and that life may actually exist in ubiquity throughout it. If not as small pockets of intelligent beings capable of carrying on a conversation with us, then they at least would exist as primitive and simple organisms adapted for life on different planets.
But even if it were host to new forms of life, even the surface of Titan would create a type of organism quite different than what is ordinarily seen on Earth. And yet there are organisms on Earth alive today known as extremophiles which could exist in similar conditions and even thrive in them. These extremophiles, such as the ones discovered in antarctic ice sheets do not hold to the basic fundamental building blocks of life that we do, but have adapted to crave far different environments. Extremophiles have been found in the super heated rock at the edge of ancient lava tubes, in the lake beds of acidic pools, and even in the deepest ocean where the pressure is too much for more complex beings. All of these conditions have been cited in the past as reasons life could not exist on other planets. And yet each one eventually does find an organism that seems to rebel against and disprove this limitation.