Wednesday, April 27, 2005

From New Scientist Cassini has found complex organic chemicals on Titan.

Some complex organic molecules - such as benzene and diacetylene - had already been picked up on an earlier approach to Titan, but the latest encounter has yielded an even wider range.

It includes nitriles and scores of different hydrocarbons, some with up to seven carbon atoms. And the results suggest that Titan's upper atmosphere holds even heavier and more complex organics, which are beyond the instrument's mass range.
Scientists do have some idea about how they are formed, however. Methane and molecular nitrogen are thought to be smashed apart by ultraviolet radiation from the Sun and by high energy particles trapped in Saturn's magnetic field. That creates highly reactive radicals that can combine to form more complex molecules.

Similar processes might have operated on the Earth a few hundred million years after it formed, generating the raw materials for life. On the other hand, Earth's organics may have been created in deep space and then delivered by comets.

Cool stuff!