A recent paper by Johns Hopkins own Darrell Strobel has been making the rounds.  His paper, “Molecular hydrogen in Titan’s atmosphere: Implications of the measured tropospheric and thermospheric mole fractions,” in conjunction with results from a VIMS study soon to be published in the Journal of Geophysical Research, has renewed interest in a 2005 paper by Chris McKay and Heather Smith about methane-based life. From a JPL press release:

One key finding comes from a paper online now in the journal Icarus that shows hydrogen molecules flowing down through Titan’s atmosphere and disappearing at the surface. Another paper online now in the Journal of Geophysical Research maps hydrocarbons on the Titan surface and finds a lack of acetylene.

This lack of acetylene is important because that chemical would likely be the best energy source for a methane-based life on Titan, said Chris McKay, an astrobiologist at NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., who proposed a set of conditions necessary for this kind of methane-based life on Titan in 2005. One interpretation of the acetylene data is that the hydrocarbon is being consumed as food. But McKay said the flow of hydrogen is even more critical because all of their proposed mechanisms involved the consumption of hydrogen.

And this:

“We suggested hydrogen consumption because it’s the obvious gas for life to consume on Titan, similar to the way we consume oxygen on Earth,” McKay said. “If these signs do turn out to be a sign of life, it would be doubly exciting because it would represent a second form of life independent from water-based life on Earth.”

Cheers to Johns Hopkins for being on the cutting edge of astrobiology research!