Nasa scientists found a special compound, called cyclopropenylidene, on Titan’s moon.
This molecule has never been discovered before in any other atmosphere, but this simple carbon-based formation could be a precursor to more complex compounds that can form or support forms. live on the moon.
Scientists first noticed this molecule, made up of 3 carbon atoms and 2 hydrogen atoms, while sifting through the light markers collected by Atacama Large Millimeter / Submillimeter Array (ALMA). in Northern Chile.
Conor Nixon, a planetary scientist at Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Center who led the search, said: “When I realized I was looking at cyclopropenylidene, my first thought was̵7; Wow This is really surprising.
While this substance has been found in many other regions across the galaxy, it has never been found in the atmosphere.
This is because it reacts very easily with other molecules; previously, it was only found in clouds of gas and dust floating between interstellar systems – locations that were too cold for chemical reactions to take place.
However, Titan is a more conducive spot for molecular formation. This is because in the upper layers of the moon’s atmosphere, there is less other gas for xyclopropenylidene to react with.
Scientists still do not know why cyclopropenylidene exists in Titan’s atmosphere in particular, while it is absent elsewhere.
“Titan is unique in our solar system,” said Nixon. “It has been shown to be a treasure trove of new molecules.”
The composition of Titan’s atmosphere is mainly nitrogen, similar to that the Earth has more methane.
Chemical reactions caused by the sun’s heat and light disrupted these compounds, and inspired scientists to undertake expeditions including the Dragonfly, in search of building blocks. construction of life.
Dragonfly will launch in 2026, but will not reach Saturn’s moon until 2034. At that time, it will travel to multiple locations on Titan in search of evidence of similar chemical processes on Earth. primitive land.
“We are trying to find out if Titan is viable,” said Rosaly Lopes, a senior research scientist at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
“We want to know which compounds from the atmosphere go to the surface, and then whether that material can pass through the ice crust into the ocean below, because we think the ocean is where living conditions exist. ”
The molecules on Titan could unlock the secret of Earth’s history because it is very similar to the structure of our planet nearly four billion years ago.
Melissa Trainer, astronomer Nasa Goddard said: “We think of Titan as a real-life laboratory where we can see chemistry similar to that of ancient Earth while life is in progress. out here, ”said Melissa Trainer, an astronomer at Nasa Goddard.
“We will be looking for larger molecules [cyclopropenylidene]”Trainer says,” but we need to know what’s going on in the atmosphere to understand the chemical reactions that lead to complex organic molecules to form and rain down on the surface.
Cyclopropenylidene is also a “cyclic”, or closed loop, molecule; These types of compounds form the backbone rings for the nucleobases in DNA and RNA (Ribonucleic acid).
The genetic flow in cells is from DNA through RNA to protein, the scientists said.
The only other ring molecule found is benzene, and was previously considered the smallest unit of cyclic hydrocarbon molecules found in any atmosphere.
However, xyclopropenylidene has half of the carbon atoms of benzene, and has thus replaced it. Evidence of a charged version of the molecule has also been found.
“It’s a very strange little molecule, so it won’t be the kind of class you learn in high school chemistry or even college chemistry,” said Michael Malaska, a planetary scientist at JPL.
“Down here on Earth, it is not going to be what you will encounter.”