An important molecule that can produce life and organic material has been found elsewhere in our solar system.
Scientists have been shocked to find that the Cassini spacecraft spotted the chemicals, central to prebiotic chemistry, on Saturn’s moon Titan. And it could mean that we are getting an up-close view of the very beginnings of life.
Cassini is conducting the grand finale before it plunges to its death, which will see it plunge into the surface of Saturn and destroy itself, ensuring that it can’t spread life around our solar system. But before then, it’s doing some of the most important work it has done – flying close to Saturn and its moons and studying them.
It found in one of those flyovers that Titan appears to host carbon chain anions. Those are the building blocks of more complex molecules, and could have served as the beginning of life on Earth.
As well as lifting hopes for the chances of finding life in our own solar system and elsewhere, the discovery is re-shaping scientists’ understanding of the mysterious moon. They didn’t expect to find the molecules there at all – usually, because negatively charged carbon chain anions are so reactive, they don’t last long in the atmosphere.