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The Cassini-Huygens team has discovered complex organic molecules in the atmosphere of Titan.

This discovery raises some interesting questions about how these organics may have formed here on Earth. This gives us an opportunity to study formation of these complex molecules in an atmosphere that is not so influenced by the biological processes occurring in our own.

Exciting stuff.

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Organic Materials Spotted High Above Titan's Surface
April 25, 2005
(Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory)

Cassini's Views of Titan
During its closest flyby of Saturn's moon Titan on April 16, the Cassini spacecraft came within 1,027 kilometers (638 miles) of the moon's surface and found that the outer layer of the thick, hazy atmosphere is brimming with complex hydrocarbons.

Scientists believe that Titan's atmosphere may be a laboratory for studying the organic chemistry that preceded life and provided the building blocks for life on Earth. The role of the upper atmosphere in this organic "factory" of hydrocarbons is very intriguing to scientists, especially given the large number of different hydrocarbons detected by Cassini during the flyby.

Click for larger image

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.

"Biology on Earth is the primary source of organic production we are familiar with, but the key question is: what is the ultimate source of the organics in the solar system?" added Waite.

Originally posted to SeattleLiberal on Tue Apr 26, 2005 at 02:15 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Fun stuff (4.00)
    I thought I would post this for the late night science nerds I know are lurking.

    I'm turning in now and will respond tomorrow.

    The two most common elements in the universe are Hydrogen and stupidity. - Harlan Ellison

    by SeattleLiberal on Tue Apr 26, 2005 at 02:10:44 AM PDT

    •  Better than fun (none)
      This is better than fun, it's cool-to-mind-blowing.  There's a hell of a universe next door - let's go!

      "We cannot let terriers and rogue nations hold this nation hostile. - W, 09/09/00

      by Bob Love on Tue Apr 26, 2005 at 02:30:47 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  i have a geo 100 midterm (none)
    in 5 hours. I was escaping this planet creation studying to read some kos. Why are you haunting me geology.

    John Kerry 2008, the leader of the youth of America.

    by desiunion on Tue Apr 26, 2005 at 02:23:31 AM PDT

  •  I'm shocked! (none)
    That these results weren't supressed or discredited by Bush Admin Creationists!

    Seriously though, very cool stuff!  Thanks for the news!

  •  Something wonderful is going to happen... (4.00)

    (In, oh, say around six billion years when the sun becomes a Red Giant and engulfs the earth...)

    The Cognitive Dissonant... "God does indeed have fuzzy dice on the rearview mirror to the universe"

    by Dood Abides on Tue Apr 26, 2005 at 02:56:37 AM PDT

  •  Just think what might be brewing in Europa (none)
    If Titan can have complex hydrocarbons in such a cold environment, think what might be lurking under the ice of Europa.....

    - "You're Hells Angels, then? What chapter are you from?"

    by Hoya90 on Tue Apr 26, 2005 at 03:51:20 AM PDT

    •  amazing stuff (none)
      Its nice to think about the amazing universe we are lucky to live in. Deep down I've always believed we are not alone. This is just more proof that maybe I'm right. Lets just hope are wingnut friends don't try to close this down as well.
      •  Extraterrestrial life? (none)
        Well, until it starts a blog, it doesn't exist.

        Hey, if they're silicon-based, they might not even need a computer!

        •  Blogito ergo sum? (none)
          Now there's a philosophical concept for you...

          - "You're Hells Angels, then? What chapter are you from?"

          by Hoya90 on Tue Apr 26, 2005 at 09:07:31 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

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