London, Feb 17 : Scientists studying the atmosphere and surface chemistry of Titan, the deep-frozen moon of Saturn, suggest that it is emerging as the most likely place in the solar system for new life to evolve.
The team at the University College London's Mullard Space Science Laboratory said that Titan's atmosphere is soaked in a range of complex organic molecules very similar to those that led to life on Earth billions of years ago.
They explained that though it is extremely cold for life to exist at Titan presently, this is likely to change because stars such as the sun enlarge and grow far hotter as they reach old age.
"About 4-5 billion years from now Earth will have been engulfed by the sun but the frozen outer planets are likely to be much warmer, including Titan," Times Online quoted Professor Andrew Coates, as saying.
"The organic chemistry on its surface is already very similar to what we think existed on Earth before life developed. When it gets warmer, life will have a good chance to get going," he added.
The new insights into Titan, the largest of Saturn's 22 known satellites, make it far clearer that the conditions on Titan are similar to those on the primordial Earth.
Particularly, the scientists showed that the atmosphere, which looked like a thick yellow smog, was made up of clouds of methane and nitrogen, while the surface comprised of great lakes of hydrocarbons, rich in the kind of organic molecules needed to initiate life.
Titan was discovered in 1655 by Christiaan Huygens, a Dutch astronomer, but was only realised to have a dense atmosphere in the 1940s.