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Location: UFOUpDatesList.Com > 2007 > Nov > Nov 29

Organic 'Building Blocks' Discovered In Titan's

From: Martin Shough <parcellular.nul>
Date: Thu, 29 Nov 2007 10:35:17 -0000
Archived: Thu, 29 Nov 2007 09:42:35 -0500
Subject: Organic 'Building Blocks' Discovered In Titan's

Source: PhysOrg.Com - Douglas, Isle Of Man


November 28, 2007

Organic 'Building Blocks' Discovered In Titan's Atmosphere

Saturn's moon Titan is the second largest in the solar system -
and the only one with a dense atmosphere. The atmosphere,
nitrogen and methane, resembles that of the early Earth. NASA's
Cassini spacecraft peered through the atmosphere, imaged the
haze layers - and ESA's Huygens probe landed on the surface.
UCL-built equipment on the orbiter detects an unexpected
component in Titan's high atmosphere - extremely heavy
hydrocarbon-based negative ions. Their mass is at least 10,000
times that of a hydrogen atom, detected at 953 km above the
surface; about the distance from London to Milan. The image
shows Titan's haze and the heavy ions. These are part of the
haze in the atmosphere, and may fall towards Titan's surface as
organic gunk. They are Carl Sagan's tholins; a brown residue
appearing in the Miller-Urey experiment, where a spark excites a
mixture of gases resembling that of Earth's early atmosphere.
The right hand side of the image shows the negative ion
signature at 4 different encounters, including T16 where we see
the 10,000 amu ions. The vertical stripes show the ions seen as
the instrument is scanned through Cassini's direction of travel
and increasing numbers of ions are seen as they ram into our

Scientists analysing data gathered by the Cassini spacecraft have
confirmed the presence of heavy negative ions in the upper
regions of Titan's atmosphere. These particles may act as organic
building blocks for even more complicated molecules and their
discovery was completely unexpected because of the chemical
composition of the atmosphere (which lacks oxygen and mainly
consists of nitrogen and methane).

The observation has now been verified on 16 different encounters
and findings will be published in Geophysical Research Letters on
November 28.

Professor Andrew Coates, researcher at UCL's Mullard Space
Science Laboratory and lead author of the paper, says: "Cassini's
electron spectrometer has enabled us to detect negative ions
which have 10,000 times the mass of hydrogen. Additional rings of
carbon can build up on these ions, forming molecules called
polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which may act as a basis for
the earliest forms of life.

"Their existence poses questions about the processes involved in
atmospheric chemistry and aerosol formation and we now think it
most likely that these negative ions form in the upper atmosphere
before moving closer to the surface, where they probably form the
mist which shrouds the planet and which has hidden its secrets
from us in the past. It was this mist which stopped the Voyager
mission from examining Titan more closely in 1980 and was one of
the reasons that Cassini was launched."

The new paper builds on work published in Science (May 11) where
the team found smaller tholins, up to 8,000 times the mass of
hydrogen, forming away from the surface of Titan.

Dr Hunter Waite of the South West Research Institute in Texas and
author of the earlier study, said: "Tholins are very large,
complex, organic molecules thought to include chemical precursors
to life. Understanding how they form could provide valuable
insight into the origin of life in the solar system."

Source: University College London

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