Weird ring-shaped molecule on Titan could be a building block to life

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Saturn’s moon Titan seen in infrared

NASA/JPL-Caltech/College of Nantes/College of Arizona

A round molecule noticed on Saturn’s moon Titan could assist type precursors to life. This compound hasn’t been seen within the environment of any planet or moon earlier than.

The molecule known as cyclopropenylidene and is made up of three carbon atoms in a hoop with two hydrogen atoms hooked up. Conor Nixon at NASA’s Goddard House Flight Middle in Maryland and his colleagues noticed it floating in Titan’s thick environment utilizing the Atacama Massive Millimeter/submillimeter Array in Chile.


Discovering this molecule on Titan was a shock. This can be very reactive – if it bumps into some other particles, it tends to be fast to chemically react with them to type new compounds. Due to this, it had beforehand solely ever been seen in tenuous clouds of fuel and mud in interstellar area. By some means, it lasts within the higher layers of Titan’s skies.

Ring-shaped molecules like this have a tendency to behave because the constructing blocks of molecules mandatory for all times, reminiscent of DNA and RNA. “This can be a actually small constructing block, however you possibly can construct greater and greater issues with it,” says Nixon. “I don’t assume anybody essentially believes that there’s microbes on Titan, however the truth that we are able to type advanced molecules like this on Titan might assist inform us issues like how life obtained began on Earth.”

Situations on Titan now could also be just like these on Earth early within the planet’s historical past, when the air was dominated by methane as an alternative of oxygen. Finding out its potential for all times might assist us study in regards to the beginnings of life right here as effectively.

Titan has the most important number of molecules on any moon or planet we have now investigated, says Nixon. ”It’s form of this comfortable searching floor for brand spanking new issues,” he says. “Molecules like this are nearly an early warning signal that there’s extra thrilling chemistry to be discovered.”

Proper now, we are able to solely search for that from Earth, however the Dragonfly spacecraft, deliberate to launch in 2027, will look at Titan’s floor up shut.

Journal reference: The Astronomical Journal, DOI: 10.3847/1538-3881/abb679

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