A specific type of negatively charged molecule that is essential in the production of complex organic molecules has been detected by surprise by the Cassini spacecraft of the European Space Agency .
The discovery constitutes a revolution in the composition of the atmosphere of this moon.
Negatively charged molecules
The finding of these negatively charged ions , or ‘anions’, has come as a surprise because they are highly reactive and should not last long in Titan’s atmosphere before combining with other materials. The finding has been published in a new study in Astrophysical Journal Letters .
The detections were made with Cassini’s plasma spectrometer, called CAPS, as the mission traversed Titan’s upper atmosphere, between 950 and 1,300 kilometers above the surface. As Ravi Desai of University College London, lead author of the study, explains:
For the first time, we have clearly identified carbon chain anions in a planetary atmosphere, ions that we consider key in producing larger and more complex organic molecules, such as the large particles that make up Titan’s haze. It is a known process in the interstellar medium, but that we have now seen in a completely different environment, so it could represent a universal process that gives rise to complex organic molecules.