Discovered a ‘strange’ molecule in Saturn’s largest moon

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NASA published on its website on Tuesday (27) that, through a gigantic radio telescope in Chile, a team of scientists was able to identify a “weird” molecule in the atmosphere of Titan, Saturn’s largest moon.

The molecule in question, unknown even among some chemists, is cyclopropenylidene, or C3 H2. According to the scientists, this simple, carbon-based molecule forms parts of the DNA and RNA nucleobases, structures that carry the genetic code of life, although the discovery does not necessarily mean life on Titan.

Through the Atacama Large Millimeter / submillimeter Array, the carbon and hydrogen compound was detected when the team measured a spectrum of unique light signatures collected by the telescope. The chemical composition of Titan’s atmosphere was evident through the energy that its molecules emitted or absorbed.

Could Titan be habitable?

Although the C3 H2 has previously been found in pockets across the galaxy, finding it in an atmosphere was “really unexpected,” according to research leader Conor Nixon of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. This is because cyclopropenylidene reacts easily with other molecules with which it comes into contact.

However, until now astronomers have found C3 H2 only in clouds of gas and dust that float between star systems, that is, in extremely cold and diffuse regions to allow chemical reactions to occur.

However, unlike these sterile environments, it can be said that Titan’s dense atmosphere is teeming with chemical activity. And that was precisely one of the main reasons why scientists are interested in this moon, which is the destination of NASA’s next Dragonfly mission.

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Scientists have yet to understand why cyclopropenylidene appears in Titan’s atmosphere and nowhere else. The largest of Saturn’s 62 moons is, to date, the most Earth-like world ever found. With clouds, rain, lakes and rivers, as well as an ocean of salt water, Titan can be theoretically habitable.


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