Archives

Titan: September 2013


The Voyager 1 flyby of Titan in 1980 gave a first glimpse of the chemical complexity of Titan's atmosphere, detecting many new molecules with the infrared spectrometer (IRIS). These included propane (C3H8) and propyne (CH3C2H), while the intermediate-sized C3Hx hydrocarbon (C3H6) was curiously absent. Using spectra from the Composite Infrared Spectrometer (CIRS) on Cassini, we show the first positive detection of propene (C3H6) in Titan's stratosphere (5-sigma significance), finally filling the three-decade gap in the chemical sequence.

Glimpses of the events that nurtured life on Earth more than 3.5 billion years ago are coming from an unlikely venue almost 1 billion miles away, according to the leader of an effort to understand Titan, one of the most unusual moons in the solar system.