Saturday science subject: Life on Titan?

— 1:38 PM on October 21, 2006

Despite having an average surface temperature of less than 100° Kelvin, Titan could support life, according to an article by the New Scientist. Radar observations of the distant moon of Saturn revealed dozens depressions in its north pole that are believed to be volcanoes similar to Earth's calderas. The clustering of the volcanoes, which are thought to have been formed by water slush containing ammonia and not molten rock, suggests the presence of a "hot spot" underneath the surface of Titan's north pole. According to Dr. Charles Wood from the Wheeling Jesuit University in Wheeling, West Virginia, "This [area] is a persistent volcanic province that has heat flow escaping over a long period of time."

The presence of volcanoes on Titan's surface could explain the abundance of methane in the moon's atmosphere, because water slush from the volcanoes could bring up methane from under the surface. It could also be a sign Titan harbors life. Dr. Karl Mitchell, who works on geophysics and planetary geosciences at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, told the New Scientist, "In magmatically active areas you expect heat, you expect gases to be released. What with the methane lakes, perhaps some type of exotic exobiology might not be completely out of the question."

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