The Habitability of Hydrocarbon Worlds: Titan and Beyond

January 9-10, 2019
California Institute of Technology - Pasadena, CA 91125

Workshop Overview:

Titan is a unique world in our solar system and likely a model for worlds beyond: it is an ocean world, an icy world, and an organic world. Recent models of the interior suggest that Titan’s subsurface ocean may be in contact with the ice-rock core, potentially providing redox gradients and heavier elements critical for a habitable environment. Further above, at the contact of the ice shell and ocean, Titan’s abundant surface organics, deposited from the atmosphere, could be delivered to the aqueous environment through processes such as potential convective cycles in the ice shell. At the surface, liquid water delivered from Titan’s depths through processes such as cryovolcanic activity or from impact melt could create transient habitable environments. In this workshop, we will review the progress of our study so far, now in its second year.

Our study is investigating the pathways for materials and potential organisms to be transported from atmosphere to ocean/core and from ocean/core to atmosphere. The goal and single compelling question this proposal addresses is: Where are habitable environments on Titan and what resulting potential biosignatures should we look for? We will present our investigation plans and work accomplished so far, which focuses on the following objectives:

  1. Determine the pathways for organic materials to be transported (and modified) from the atmosphere to surface and eventually to the subsurface ocean (the most likely habitable environment).
  2. Determine whether the physical and chemical processes in the ocean create stable, habitable environments.
  3. Determine what biosignatures would be produced if the ocean is inhabited.
  4. Determine how biosignatures can be transported from the ocean to the surface and atmosphere and be recognizable at the surface and in the atmosphere.

This work is funded by NASA’s Astrobiology Institute grant NNN13D485T.

Workshop Participants:

  • Jack Beauchamp, Caltech
  • Sam Birch, Cornell
  • Olivier Bollanger, U. Illinois
  • J. Michael Brown, U of Washington
  • Liliane Burkhard, U of Hawaii
  • Morgan Cable, JPL
  • Rajani Dhingra, JPL
  • Sarah Fagents, U of Hawaii
  • Edith Fayolle, JPL
  • Rob Hodyss, JPL
  • Paul Johnson, JPL
  • Baptiste Journaux, U of Washington
  • Fabien Kenig, U of Illinois, Chicago
  • Klara Kalousova, Charles Un., Prague
  • Judy Malas, U. Illinois
  • Mohit M. Daswani, JPL
  • D’Arcy Meyer-Dombard, U of Illinois
  • Kelly Miller, SWRI
  • Claire Newman , Aeolis Research
  • Conor Nixon, GSFC
  • Ashley Schoenfeld, UCLA
  • Lauren Schurmeier, U of Hawaii
  • Anezina Solomonidou, ESA
  • Christophe Sotin, JPL                                     
  • Alexander Thelen, GSFC
  • Orkan Umurhan, SETI
  • Steve Vance, JPL
  • Yuk Yung, Caltech