Tuesday , January 26 2021

NASA scientists unexpectedly discover “strange” molecule in Titan’s atmosphere

Titan poses in front of Saturn in this mosaic image from the Cassini mission.

NASA / JPL-Kaltech / Space Science Institute

Chances are that cyclopropenilidine (a combination of carbon and hydrogen) never appeared on your high school chemistry quizzes, but the molecule has some astronomers buzzing since it was discovered in the atmosphere of Saturn’s intriguing moon, Titan.

“Scientists say this simple carbon-based molecule could be the precursor to more complex compounds that could form or feed the possible life of Titan,” NASA said in a statement on Tuesday.

Titanium, ice moon with methane lakes, is the target of NASA’s upcoming Dragonfly mission, who will look for signs of past or present life.

A research team led by NASA scientists published their study of Titan in the Astronomical Journal this month. The team made the discovery thanks to drillings from the large millimeter / sub-millimeter Atacama Desert (ALMA) in Chile.

NASA planetary scientist Conor Nixon described the findings as “really unexpected”. This is the first time cyclopropenilidine has been found in the atmosphere, although it has been observed in clouds of gas and dust in space.

Titan – which scientists suspect is an underground ocean of water – may be a parallel to ancient Earth. “We think of Titan as a real-life laboratory where we can see chemistry similar to that of ancient Earth when life took place here,” said NASA astronomer Goddard Melissa Trainer.

Cyclopropenilidine is not evidence of Titan’s life, but it adds a new layer of intrigue to the many jumbo-sized mysteries around the moon.

Dragonfly, which is essentially a large drone, will be designed to reach multiple locations via Titan. Havee have to wait a while for clearer answers to what is really going on there. NASA aims to launch the mission in 2027.

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