So one has to wonder: has hydrocarbon chemistry on Titan crossed thethreshold from inanimate matter to some form of life? The finding appears in today's edition of the journal Science. Here it is so cold (-290 degrees Fahrenheit or -179 degrees Celsius) that water ice plays the role of rock. Arecibo Observatory: Watching for asteroids, waiting for E.T. It is the only world in our solar system other than Earth where aliquid cycle like this takes place. "The presence of a liquid water layer in Titan is important because we want to understand how methane is stored in Titan's interior and how it may outgas to the surface," said Jonathan Lunine, a Cassini team member at Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y. "This is important because everything that is unique about Titan derives from the presence of abundant methane, yet the methane in the atmosphere should be destroyed on geologically short timescales.". . On Earth, tides result from the gravitational attraction of the moon and sun pulling on our surface oceans. A movie shows "tides" on Titan raised by Saturn's gravity (exaggerated for clarity). Get breaking space news and the latest updates on rocket launches, skywatching events and more! The clues could be subtle. Receive mail from us on behalf of our trusted partners or sponsors? Exotic Life Could Sprout from Chemistry on Titan, A Thanksgiving sun treat: Big sunspot rotates into view, Terraforming Mars board game is now 40% off for Black Friday. DSN, also managed by JPL, is an international network of antennas that supports interplanetary spacecraft missions and radio and radar astronomy observations for the exploration of the solar system and the universe. A liquid layer between the external, deformable shell and a solid mantle would enable Titan to bulge and compress as it orbits Saturn. Titan has clouds, rain, rivers, lakes and seas of liquid hydrocarbons like methane and ethane. "We were making ultrasensitive measurements, and thankfully Cassini and the DSN were able to maintain a very stable link," said Sami Asmar, a Cassini team member at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "The tides on Titan pulled up by Saturn aren't huge compared to the pull the biggest planet, Jupiter, exerts on some of its moons. Methane and ethane are the simplesthydrocarbon molecules. But, short of being able to drill on Titan's surface, the gravity measurements provide the best data we have of Titan's internal structure.". "DNAand RNA," says Lunine, "form out of compounds that require oxygen andphosphorus, and there's very little oxygen in the Titan system." © A new study using data from the joint NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) Cassini mission suggests the moon's surface dissolves in a process that's similar to the creation of sinkholes on Earth. NY 10036. These gravity measurements, collected with the aid of NASA's Deep Space Network (DSN), revealed the size of Titan's tides. Saturn's giant moon Titan lies about as far from thestandard definition of habitable as one can get. Titan … But such life,even if it is found, could have shared a single origin with life on Earth,getting started on one world and being transferred by meteorites to others. Because Titan's surface is mostly made of water ice, which is abundant in moons of the outer solar system, scientists believe Titan's ocean is likely mostly liquid water. By Charles Q. Choi, Astrobiology Magazine Contributor - May 5, 2011 . Titan has long fascinated astronomers with its hazy, orange-colored atmosphere that extends over 600 miles (965 kilometers) from the moon's surface. There is no way that terrestriallife could have originated or could survive on Titan. The gravitational pulling by the sun and moon also causes Earth's crust to bulge in solid tides of about 20 inches (50 centimeters). The temperature at its surfacehovers around 94 degrees Kelvin (minus 179 C, or minus 290 F). Pohorille considers that water is important not only as the solvent used by "the only life we know" but also because its chemical properties are "uniquely suited to promote self-organization of organic matter". Water ice was known to exist on Titan’s surface, but it was thought to be isolated to small, localized areas. A Water Ocean on Titan? A liquid water ocean, "salted" with ammonia, could produce buoyant ammonia-water liquids that bubble up through the crust and liberate methane from the ice. We don't know what'spossible. Because if the answer is yes, it means that the originof life has taken place more than once. We know there's methane, we knowthere's ethane," but TiME would inventory more complex organic(hydrocarbon) compounds, as well. Notso for Titan. Instead, researchers believe the fluid that sculpts Titan is an unknown mixture of methane, ethane, and other hard-to-freeze hydrocarbons. It may be decades before anothermajor mission flies to Saturnand Titan. Onething is for certain: if there is lifeon Titan, it is not life as we know it. At thattemperature, water is a rock as hard as granite. But theanswer is profound." Scientists wonder whether there could also be life. If there is life on Titan, it arose separately from life onEarth. The lack of liquid water on Titan's surface was cited by NASA astrobiologist Andrew Pohorille in 2009 as an argument against life there. Andyet many scientists now believe life may have found a way to take hold onTitan. Because Titan's surface is mostly made of water ice, which is abundant in moons of the outer solar system, scientists believe Titan's ocean is likely mostly liquid water.