Molecular Physics seminar

Complex Molecules on Titan: Ionosphere to the surface

by Prof. Mark Smith (University of Arizona)

FD41 ()


Using synchrotron light sources and electrical discharges, the first stages of complex molecule synthesis in simple planetary atmospheres can be studied as has been more simply done in the early Miller/Urey investigations of early earth chemistry in the 1950’s. Applied to ionosphere of Saturn’s moon, Titan, we investigate the EUV generation of aromatic molecules such as those observed by the Cassini mission, nitrogenated organics as precursors to biological chemistry and complex organic aerosol generation. Once settled onto the surface of Titan, similar organic aerosols form the feedstock for the generation of the first prebiotic molecular systems through the potential interaction with water ice, molten aqueous pools and cryovolcanic ammonia/water eutectics. Rates of the generation of CHNO containing organics are investigated at low temperatures to gain insight as to the potential distribution and site concentrations of prebiotic compounds on the Titan surface. The whole of this knowledge is critical for the development of next generation instrumentation and planetary missions to investigate complex chemistry in our solar system outside of the terrestrial envelope.