Titan may be just one of Saturn’s dozens of moons, but it is one of the most attractive objects in the solar system. Astronomers often call Titan a moon-like planet – it’s larger than Mercury and has thick atmospheres like Earth and Venus. The environment does not like human life, but scientists still find many attractive organic compounds. In the latest analysis, researchers from NASA have identified an important, highly reactive organic molecule in Titan’s atmosphere. Its presence suggests that the moon can support chemical processes that we are often associated with life.
A dense layer of organonitrogenation obscures Titan’s surface, but scientists were shocked to see how diverse and planet-like it was under all the clouds. Titan is the only object in the extraterrestrial solar system that has permanent liquid objects on its surface. On Earth, liquid is water, but the ocean on Titan is made up of liquid hydrocarbons. However, just because humans are not at home on Titan doesn’t mean the moon is completely uninhabitable.
The NASA team used Atacama Large Millimeter / submillimeter Array (ALMA) to probe Titan’s murky atmosphere to better understand its complex chemical composition, and researchers have discovered a molecule. is called cyclopropenylidene (C3H2). The discovery has the potential to open up new chemical branches on Titan, many of which are associated with life, the team said. Cyclopropenylidene is known as a cyclic or “closed-loop” molecule similar to benzene, and according to profile scientists have known benzene has been on Titan since 2003. The circulating molecules are an important part of organic chemistry and possibly even a precursor to life.
Titan is not the only place where we find cyclopropenylidene – it’s also a common component of space-drifting molecular clouds. However, this is the first time it has been detected in the atmosphere. Molecules float in too cold space and are too far apart to facilitate chemical reactions, but on Titan, cyclopropenylidene can form molecules that are very similar to DNA nucleobases.
The more we learn about Titan, the more fascinating its chemistry becomes. We may be looking at a mixture of molecules that are no different from the ones that gave birth to life on Earth. Unfortunately, it was difficult to study Titan from very far. NASA hopes to launch a mission to Titan in the late 2020s that can explore these questions in detail. The Dragonfly lander will arrive on Titan in 2034, based on current forecasts. This drone will fly between multiple locations on the surface, using its tools to probe the moon to find scientific compounds of interest.
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