For example, the planet Saturn has water clouds as well as ammonia clouds. Titan would lose its mystique and turn into just another satellite with thin air. Lakes, puddles and streams would dry up. Another planetary body, Saturn’s largest moon Titan, also routinely comes up in discussions of extraterrestrial biology. Other significant sources include termites, rice paddies, swamps. Thus, a substantial body of evidence exists, even more so than for Mars, that methane stored in the interior would have no difficulty getting out to the surface and subsequently evaporating into the atmosphere. Researchers had long noticed methane released from deep-sea vents. "Here's a source of chemical energy that's being created by geology," says Seewald. We do not guarantee individual replies due to extremely high volume of correspondence. A Titanic Ocean Smoke in the Waters If such organisms lived on Mars, they would find a ready supply of nutrients: hydrogen (either produced in the serpentinization process or diffusing into the soil from the atmosphere) plus carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide (in the rocks or from the atmosphere). Vittorio Formisano of the Institute of Physics and Interplanetary Science in Rome and his colleagues (including me) analyzed thousands of infrared spectra collected by the Mars Express orbiter. "We were totally surprised to find this massive pool of abiotic methane in the oceanic crust and mantle," Klein says. These oceanic deposits make up a reservoir exceeding the amount of methane in Earth's atmosphere before industrialization, estimates Frieder Klein, a marine geologist at WHOI and lead author of the study. Hypothetical types of biochemistry are forms of biochemistry speculated to be scientifically viable but not proven to exist at this time. Other than Earth, Saturn’s largest moon, Titan is the only celestial body where it rains in a liquid state on a solid surface; however, it doesn’t rain water on Titan, but Methane. It was discovered by William Herschel in 1781. Microorganisms would fit right in. Holiday Sale: Save 25%, It might mean life, it might mean unusual geologic activity; whichever it is, the presence of methane in the atmospheres of Mars and Titan is one of the most tantalizing puzzles in our solar system. We found methane to be much less abundant, ranging from zero to about 35 ppbv, with a planetary average of approximately 10 ppbv. Abiotic sources such as industrial processes are comparatively minor. Thus, the observed variations of methane levels over the planet are puzzling. You can be assured our editors closely monitor every feedback sent and will take appropriate actions. The research supports that the methane we find on planets, such as Uranus and Neptune, was probably available long before our solar system was formed… Although low-temperature serpentinization may be capable of producing the Martian methane, biology remains a serious possibility. Laboratory experiments show that under the conditions prevailing at these vents, ultramafic silicates—rocks rich in iron or magnesium, such as olivine and pyroxene—can react to produce hydrogen in a process commonly referred to as serpentinization. Click here to sign in with Aquifers below the ice would provide a habitat for creatures or a venue for the hydrogeochemical production of methane. This measurement is challenging when the concentration of the gas is so low (one billionth of that on Titan). Methane (CH 4) is abundant on the giant planets—Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune—where it was the product of chemical processing of primordial solar nebula material. Your email address is used only to let the recipient know who sent the email. The surface appears relatively young and free of craters, which is a sign of resurfacing by material from the interior. It corresponds to a concentration of methane (in molecules per unit volume) that is only 40 millionths of the concentration in Earth’s atmosphere. They could not determine the variation over the planet because of poor signal and spatial resolution. On Titan, however, the Huygens probe measured a ratio of 82.3 in methane, which is smaller, not larger, than the terrestrial inorganic standard value. Thus, it seems like a circular argument: to produce methane (by microbes), one needs methane. Icy methane rainstorms, planet-wide sand storms, and lead-melting temperatures afflict other planets and their moons. NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) rover, scheduled to arrive at Mars in 2010, should be able to carry out precise measurements of the carbon isotopes in methane and possibly other organic materials. That is what happened with Mars in 2003 and 2004, when three independent groups of scientists announced the discovery of methane in the atmosphere of that planet. It will also study solid and gaseous samples for other chemical signs of past or present life, such as a very high abundance ratio of methane to heavier hydrocarbons (ethane, propane, butane) and chirality (a preference for either left-handed or right-handed organic molecules). Either the geologic or biological scenario would explain this correlation. These hydrocarbons are called Tholin and are formed by the action of ultraviolet light and the solar wind on methane, nitrogen and other smaller carbon compounds. There are also solid-ice mountains on Titan. Comets are about 1 percent methane by weight, but they strike Mars only once every 60 million years on average. Might biology also play a role in creating Titan’s methane? Author has 15.9K answers and 16.7M answer views. This isotope forms by the radioactive decay of potassium 40, which is sequestered in the rocks deep in Titan’s core. Scientific American is part of Springer Nature, which owns or has commercial relations with thousands of scientific publications (many of them can be found at. The keys to this process are hydrogen, carbon, metals (which act as catalysts), and heat and pressure. In summary, methane serves as the glue that holds Titan together in some mysterious ways. One possible sink is chemically reactive soil, which could accelerate the loss of methane. For a 600-year lifetime, a little over 100 metric tons of methane would have to be produced each year to maintain a constant global average of 10 ppbv.