Building blocks of life discovered in Titan’s atmosphere — NASA discovers a ‘weird’ molecule on Saturn’s largest moon
- A rare molecule called cyclopropenylidene has been found on Saturn’s largest moon,
- In Titan’s dense atmosphere, the molecule is capable of creating life when it comes into contact with other compounds.
- This is significant because Titan is dubbed to be the most Earth-like entity in the entire solar system.
This is a big deal because out of over 200 moons within our solar system, and 62 that belong to Saturn alone, Titan is considered to be the most like Earth.
Its atmosphere is four times as dense but like Earth, it’s mostly made up of hydrogen with a hint of methane mixed in. There are clouds, rain, lakes, rivers and even a subsurface ocean filled with salty water.
Scientists believe that the types of molecules sitting on Titan’s surface could be the same ones that formed the building block of life on Earth 3.8 to 2.5 billion years ago.
Cyclopropenylidene is three parts of carbon and two parts hydrogen. Even though scientists on Earth do know of its existence, it's barely heard of. While it is not used in modern-day biological reactions, the molecule is important as it forms the backbone of DNA and RNA — both critical in the creation of life.
“When I realized I was looking at cyclopropenylidene, my first thought was, ‘Well, this is really unexpected,’” remarked Conor Nixon, who led the study at National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (
Even though scientists have previously found this molecule around the galaxy is independent regions, it has never before been detected within an atmosphere. This is surprising because cyclopropenylidene can react very easily with other molecules. It can even form different species.
In pockets around the galaxy, the molecule is usually surrounded by clouds of gas and dust. The areas are too cold and inadvertently diffuse many chemical reactions.
However, on Titan, the moon’s dense atmosphere could allow cyclopropenylidene to serve as the building blocks for more complex compounds, possibly those capable of forming or feeding life.
Scientists are hoping to find out more through NASA’s Dragonfly mission. It is scheduled to take off from Earth in 2026 and reach Titan by 2034.
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