new molecule in Titan's atmosphere

NASA discovered a new molecule in Titan’s atmosphere

NASA has discovered a new item in Titan’s atmosphere that is not present in other atmospheres. The carbon-based molecule is called Cyclopropenylidene, or C3H2. Scientists believe that the molecule might be the precursor to more complex elements that are responsible for possible life on Titan.

How researchers discovered new element in Titan’s atmosphere

Researchers discovered the element (C3H2) using a radio telescope observatory in northern Chile known as the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA). Conor Nixon, a scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, who led the ALMA search, said, “When I realized I was looking at Cyclopropenylidene, my first thought was, ‘Well, this is really unexpected.”

Scientists found the element throughout the galaxy but it is the first time scientists discovered such kind of element in the atmosphere. It is because Cyclopropenylidene readily reacts with other neighboring molecules and form complex elements. Prior to this discovery, scientists found C3H2 only in clouds of gas and dust that float between star systems.

Researchers found the C3H2 in the upper layer of Titan’s atmosphere where there are fewer other gases for C3H2 to interact with. Titan’s atmosphere is quite thick in comparison to Earth’s atmosphere. It is 4 times thicker than the earth’s atmosphere and is a house of clouds, rain, lakes and rivers, and even a subsurface ocean of salty water. The atmosphere is composed mostly of Nitrogen with a very small amount of Methane.

Pic credits: Conor Nixon/NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

“We’re trying to figure out if Titan is habitable,” said Rosaly Lopes, a senior research scientist and Titan expert at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. “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.”