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Miscellaneous thoughts and ramblings
Friday, April 29, 2005
Cassini Finds Organic Material on Titan
Cassini Finds Organic Material on Titan

Titan's atmosphere is mainly made up of nitrogen and methane, the simplest type of hydrocarbon. But scientists were surprised to find complex organic material in the latest flyby. Because Titan is extremely cold — about minus 290 degrees — scientists expected the organic material to condense and rain down to the surface.

Update by Doctor Bean on Sunday, May 1, 9:45 pm:

The Cassini-Huygens mission website has some of the details I was looking for. (See my comment a few days ago.)

Hydrocarbons containing as many as seven carbon atoms were observed, as well as nitrogen- containing hydrocarbons (nitriles). Titan's atmosphere is composed primarily of nitrogen, followed by methane, the simplest hydrocarbon. The nitrogen and methane are expected to form complex hydrocarbons in a process induced by sunlight or energetic particles from Saturn's magnetosphere. However, it is surprising to find the plethora of complex hydrocarbon molecules in the upper reaches of the atmosphere. Titan is very cold, and complex hydrocarbons would be expected to condense and rain down to the surface.
That's very cool. Seven carbon molecules are fairly big. Glucose, for comparison, has 6 carbon atoms. And this is just in the atmosphere. Perhaps more complex stuff is in the muddy surface. I wonder if all the surface analysis from the Huygen's probe is finished, or if we are still waiting to learn more...
Neat story, but just a tease. It mentions complex molecules, but not what molecules. Ethane? Amino acids? I hope the Cassini site has details.

Nomad, your output today has been copious! I may not get to all of it before sundown.
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