NOV 02, 2020 8:30 AM PST

Never-Found-Before Molecule Detected in Titan's Atmosphere

WRITTEN BY: Annie Lennon

Astronomers have detected Cyclopropenylidene (C3H2) on Titan, one of Saturn's 53 confirmed moons. While the molecule has been known to exist in very strict lab conditions, this is the first time it has been detected inside an atmosphere. 

Cyclopropenylidene does not last long in regular atmospheric conditions. This is because it reacts very quickly and easily with other molecules to form compounds. As such, aside from strict lab conditions, the only other place it has been known to remain stable is in interstellar space, where it does regularly interact with other compounds. 

Titan's atmosphere, of course, is very different from interstellar space. Predominantly composed of nitrogen, it hosts hydrocarbon clouds ad lakes. Four times thicker than Earth's atmosphere and a known 'treasure trove' for organic chemical activity, astronomers also suspect that under its surface exists a large ocean of saltwater. 

The molecule was found on Titan's atmosphere by a team of astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile. Its unusual chemical signature was found in the moon's upper atmosphere. 

Initially shocked by the finding, the astronomers say that the 'thinness' of Titan's atmosphere likely contributed to Cyclopropenylidene's ability to remain intact. However, why it appears in Titan's atmosphere and not in other atmospheres remains unknown. 

Cycloproenlidene is particularly interesting for scientists due to its structure as a ring molecule, consisting of three carbon atoms linked together like a ring. While not known to have a biological function itself, the nucleobases of DNA and RNA are based on such molecular rings.

"We're trying to figure out if Titan is habitable," says geologist Rosaly Lopes of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "So we want to know what compounds from the atmosphere get to the surface, and then, whether that material can get through the ice crust to the ocean below, because we think the ocean is where the habitable conditions are."

 

Sources: Science AlertThe Astronomical Journal

About the Author
  • Annie Lennon is a writer whose work also appears in Medical News Today, Psych Central, Psychology Today, and other outlets. When she's not writing, she is COO of Xeurix, an HR startup that assesses jobfit from gamified workplace simulations.
You May Also Like
MAY 07, 2021
Space & Astronomy
Did Scientists Just Find Mushrooms on Mars?
MAY 07, 2021
Did Scientists Just Find Mushrooms on Mars?
While experts agree that most life on Earth would not be able to survive on Mars, NASA researchers have previously sugge ...
MAY 15, 2021
Space & Astronomy
Earth's Core has 70 Times More Hydrogen than the Oceans
MAY 15, 2021
Earth's Core has 70 Times More Hydrogen than the Oceans
Researchers from the University of Tokyo have found that under certain extreme conditions, hydrogen particles can bond s ...
JUN 08, 2021
Space & Astronomy
Improving the Accuracy of Space Weather Predictions
JUN 08, 2021
Improving the Accuracy of Space Weather Predictions
When magnetized plasma is released from the surface of the sun in a phenomenon known as coronal mass ejections, they can ...
JUL 09, 2021
Space & Astronomy
Cluster of Free-Floating Planets Captured by Kepler Telescope
JUL 09, 2021
Cluster of Free-Floating Planets Captured by Kepler Telescope
The Kepler Space Telescope has captured evidence of mysterious free-floating planets, or planets that are alone in deep ...
SEP 06, 2021
Chemistry & Physics
NASA's James Webb Space Telescope is Ready for Space!
SEP 06, 2021
NASA's James Webb Space Telescope is Ready for Space!
With a long set of rigorous tests behind it, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), NASA’s next major space telesc ...
OCT 31, 2021
Space & Astronomy
Researchers Create & Sustain Otherworldly 'Superionic' Ice
OCT 31, 2021
Researchers Create & Sustain Otherworldly 'Superionic' Ice
Water can assume an astonishing array of conformations. It can be a liquid, vapor, or different kinds of solids. Scienti ...
Loading Comments...