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2009 Annual Science Report

NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory - Titan Reporting  |  JUL 2008 – AUG 2009

The Commonality of Life in the Universe

Project Summary

Is life a common outcome of physical and chemical processes in the universe? Around other stars, Titan-like environments are key astrobiology targets.

4 Institutions
3 Teams
0 Publications
0 Field Sites
Field Sites

Project Progress

Deputy Principal Investigator Jonathan Lunine has explored the question of whether life is a common outcome of physical and chemical processes in the universe. Within our own solar system, a successful search for even primitive life, were it to have an origin independent from life on Earth, would dramatically advance a positive answer. The most stringent test for a second independent origin of life would come from examination of either the most physically remote from Earth, or the most exotic type, of planetary environments in which one might plausibly imagine a form of life could exist. Based on work by Co-Investigator Steven Benner, Lunine has advanced the idea that Saturn’s moon Titan is the best such target in our solar system. He calculated the regions around stars of different spectral types where objects like Titan might exist (the equivalent of the habitable zone, but for liquid methane). He went on to argue that the higher abundance of cool M dwarfs relative to stars like the Sun, and the quiescence of the 1 AU region around main sequence stars, makes Titan-like environments of keen interest in the characterization of extrasolar planets.

    Jonathan Lunine Jonathan Lunine
    Project Investigator
    Steven Benner Steven Benner
    Objective 1.1
    Formation and evolution of habitable planets.

    Objective 2.2
    Outer Solar System exploration

    Objective 3.1
    Sources of prebiotic materials and catalysts

    Objective 3.2
    Origins and evolution of functional biomolecules

    Objective 3.3
    Origins of energy transduction