Unusual molecule found in atmosphere on Saturn's moon Titan - CNN
Oct 28, 2020 1 min, 30 secs
This radio telescope observatory captures a range of light signatures, which revealed the molecule among the unique chemistry of Titan's atmosphere.

"It has proved to be a treasure trove of new molecules."

Cyclopropenylidene is the second cyclic or closed-loop molecule detected at Titan; the first was benzene in 2003.

On Earth, benzene is found in crude oil, is used as an industrial chemical and occurs naturally in the wake of volcanoes and forest fires.

Cyclic molecules are crucial because they form the backbone rings for the nucleobases of DNA, according to NASA.

"The cyclic nature of them opens up this extra branch of chemistry that allows you to build these biologically important molecules," said study coauthor Alexander Thelen, an astrobiologist at Goddard, in a statement.

Cassini's mass spectrometer detected a chemical signature of the same molecule, the researchers found.

This creates intriguing complex organic chemistry in Titan's atmosphere that has captivated scientists.

"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."

Understanding the organic material sitting on Titan's surface could reveal more about Earth's history.

The mission will also explore Titan's atmosphere, surface properties, subsurface ocean and liquid on the surface.

"We think of Titan as a real-life laboratory where we can see similar chemistry to that of ancient Earth when life was taking hold here," said Melissa Trainer, a NASA Goddard astrobiologist and Dragonfly mission deputy principal investigator, in a statement.

"We'll be looking for bigger molecules than C3H2," Trainer said, "but we need to know what's happening in the atmosphere to understand the chemical reactions that lead complex organic molecules to form and rain down to the surface."


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