Language Selection

English French German Italian Portuguese Spanish

Has Huygens found life on Titan?

Filed under
Sci/Tech

IF LIFE exists on Titan, Saturn's biggest moon, we could soon know about it - as long as it's the methane-spewing variety. The chemical signature of microbial life could be hidden in readings taken by the European Space Agency's Huygens probe when it landed on Titan in January.

Titan's atmosphere is about 5 per cent methane, and Chris McKay of NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffet Field, California, thinks that some of it could be coming from methanogens, or methane-producing microbes. Now he and Heather Smith of the International Space University in Strasbourg, France, have worked out the likely diet of such organisms on Titan.

They think the microbes would breathe hydrogen rather than oxygen, and eat organic molecules drifting down from the upper atmosphere. They considered three available substances: acetylene, ethane and more complex organic gunk known as tholins. Ethane and tholins turn out to provide little more than the minimum energy requirements of methanogenic bacteria on Earth. The more tempting high-calorie option is acetylene, yielding six times as much energy per mole as either ethane or tholins.

McKay and Smith calculate that if methanogens are thriving on Titan, their breathing would deplete hydrogen levels near the surface to one-thousandth that of the rest of the atmosphere. Detecting this difference would be striking evidence for life, because no known non-biological process on Titan could affect hydrogen concentrations as much.

One hope for testing their idea rests with the data from an instrument on Huygens called the GCMS, which recorded Titan's chemical make-up as the probe descended. It will take time to analyse the raw data, partly because hydrogen's signal will have to be separated from those of other molecules. "Eventually, I hope, we will have numbers for at least upper limits for hydrogen," says Hasso Niemann of Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, principal investigator of the GCMS.

Acetylene could be easier to analyse, McKay says, and it too might betray life. "I would guess that there would be a similar fall-off of acetylene if the microbes are eating it." The work is to be published in the journal Icarus.

By Stephen Battersby
NewScientistSpace.com.

More in Tux Machines

You Should Be In Control of Your Tech

On the hardware front having control means hardware you can open and inspect and is designed for repairability. That hardware should ideally run firmware (as much as possible) that is free software so you can also inspect and update it. If the hardware provides security features, they should be designed to put you in control, not the vendor, including control of any keys. The hardware should not require the vendor’s signatures (and therefore their permission) to boot an operating system, but instead should let you boot into whatever operating system you prefer. The operating system and the software it runs, should all be free software. Free software by its very nature puts you in full control. You have control because you can not only inspect the software to see what it does, you (or someone else in the community with software development knowledge) can change the software if it operates outside your interests. You may have noticed that you don’t tend to have a lot of adware or spyware in the free software world. That’s because it’s difficult to hide spyware inside of code that anyone can inspect. Another reason is that if free software behaves in a way that runs counter to the user’s wishes (such as capturing and selling their data, or popping up unwanted ads), the user (or someone else in the community) could simply create a legitimate fork of the project with those objectionable bits removed. Read more

What’s New in KDE Plasma 5.24: 5 Major Improvements to Expect

KDE is set to release Plasma 5.24, the first major release of 2022. The beta version is already out and gives a glimpse of what new features to expect in KDE Plasma 5.24. This new version brings forward various updates spread across the entire KDE ecosystem and improves things like Wayland support and system navigation. Read below to find out all the exciting new features you can expect in KDE Plasma 5.24, which will be released in February 2022. Read more

Anbernic RG552 review

From the RG350 to the RG280V and many more inbetween, it’s built a solid reputation for putting out superb, affordable Linux-based handhelds purpose built for retro gaming, with build quality far beyond expectations. Read more

Wine 7.1

  • WineHQ - Wine Announcement - The Wine development release 7.1 is now available.
    The Wine development release 7.1 is now available.
    
    What's new in this release (see below for details):
      - Vulkan 1.3 support.
      - A number of theming fixes.
      - WebSocket improvements.
      - Improved cursor clipping on macOS.
      - IDL compiler fixes for C++.
      - Various bug fixes.
    
    The source is available from the following locations:
    
      https://dl.winehq.org/wine/source/7.x/wine-7.1.tar.xz
      http://mirrors.ibiblio.org/wine/source/7.x/wine-7.1.tar.xz
    
    Binary packages for various distributions will be available from:
    
      https://www.winehq.org/download
    
    You will find documentation on https://www.winehq.org/documentation
    
    You can also get the current source directly from the git
    repository. Check https://www.winehq.org/git for details.
    
    Wine is available thanks to the work of many people. See the file
    AUTHORS in the distribution for the complete list.
    
  • Wine 7.1 is out with Vulkan 1.3 support | GamingOnLinux

    Now that the dust has settled on the bottle of Wine 7.0, the biweekly development releases have begun and Wine 7.1 is out with new features and bug fixes. This is the compatibility layer that allows you to run games and applications developed for Windows - on Linux. Part of what makes up Steam Play Proton. Once a year or so, a new stable release is made.

  • Wine 7.1 Released With Vulkan 1.3 Support, Theming Fixes - Phoronix

    With Wine 7.0 having been released, the code freeze is over and we are now onto the Wine 7.x bi-weekly development releases that will then culminate with the Wine 8.0 stable release one year from now. In kicking off the new development series, Wine 7.1 is out today. Wine 7.1 brings support for Vulkan 1.3 that released earlier this week. The headers and other bits for Wine's Vulkan integration have been updated against the v1.3 specification.