What if Kottke is right? What if this afternoon NASA announces the discovery of living organisms on Titan (a moon of Saturn)? I find it unlikely, mostly because I do not believe we have the equipment orbiting Titan to conclusively prove little critters are moving about. Sure, the Huygens craft landed and took pictures, but barring a webcam video of some sort of Titan-dwelling, methane-powered mouse skittering about, I highly doubt we've found evidence of life.
My instinct, considering this is NASA, is that they will have no conclusive results, but will call for massive, open-ended funding to plan a long-range mission back to Saturn to do further analysis of Titan to inconclusively determine that there might be the conditions for some sort of life form to maybe have evolved, maybe be evolving, or may yet to evolve. NASA will get a cadre of experts, as Kottke has outlined, and they will describe a test method by which living organisms might be detected, then NASA will announce that the mission will take tons of money and years and Boeing or Northrup-Grumman will be the prime on the mission.
But what if there was life on Titan? What if methane-based gas creatures flitted about the sky, drinking acetylene, and occasionally eating the methanogens that skittered around the hydrocarbon ponds on the surface? Not only would it be the most important announcement in the history of our species, but it would drastically change the "definition of life" and make us reevaluate (and almost certainly increase) the number of star systems we believed to be habitable. Certainly, humans could not live on Titan, nor could any other carbon-based life form. But if other forms of life could exist on these bizarre worlds...imagine the possibilities when the Universe may have not 22 sextillion stars as previously estimated...but three times that many!
2 hours ago