NASA Uses Aromatic ‘Flavour’ Compounds to Understand Titan

NASA has created a new ‘recipe’ of aromatic compounds in order to understand the chemistry of the smoggy haze found on Titan (Saturn’s largest moon).

converted PNM file
Titan and its smoggy haze


They carried out this experiment because they wanted to understand the chemistry of the smog, which contained an unidentified material that was first discovered by the Composite Infrared Spectrometer (an instrument that uses wavelengths far beyond the red infrared light) on the Cassini spacecraft.

To see what the mixture was made of, the team at NASA started to combine gases in a chamber to see how they react. They started with nitrogen and methane, the two most plentiful gases in Titan’s atmosphere, but couldn’t get the same mixture that Cassini spotted. The main problem that NASA has encountered in this experiment are the limitless number of hydrocarbons and nitriles (nitrogen containing molecules) that can exist, so they then added in benzene and tried out other aromatic compounds. Eventually, an aromatic compound containing nitrogen was the best match and the team were able to make a gas that has similar spectral readings to the ones that Cassini found.


“This is the closest anyone has come, to our knowledge, to recreating with lab experiments this particular feature seen in the Cassini data,” said Joshua Sebree, the lead author of the study.

Now that they’ve got the basic recipe, it’s now up to NASA to continue tweaking with the conditions and formula so that they can perfectly recreate the smog on Titan.

You can find more of this story from Science Daily.


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