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Sci Adv. 2017 Jul 28;3(7):e1700022. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.1700022. eCollection 2017 Jul.

ALMA detection and astrobiological potential of vinyl cyanide on Titan.

Author information

1
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, 8800 Greenbelt Road, Greenbelt, MD 20771, USA.
2
Department of Chemistry, St. Olaf College, 1520 St. Olaf Avenue, Northfield, MN 55057, USA.
3
Department of Physics, Catholic University of America, Washington, DC 20064, USA.
4
School of Earth Sciences, University of Bristol, Wills Memorial Building, Queens Road, Bristol BS8 1RJ, UK.
5
Institute of Physics, Polish Academy of Sciences, Al. Lotnikøw 32/46, 02-668 Warszawa, Poland.
6
Atmospheric, Oceanic and Planetary Physics, Clarendon Laboratory, University of Oxford, Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3PU, UK.

Abstract

Recent simulations have indicated that vinyl cyanide is the best candidate molecule for the formation of cell membranes/vesicle structures in Titan's hydrocarbon-rich lakes and seas. Although the existence of vinyl cyanide (C2H3CN) on Titan was previously inferred using Cassini mass spectrometry, a definitive detection has been lacking until now. We report the first spectroscopic detection of vinyl cyanide in Titan's atmosphere, obtained using archival data from the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), collected from February to May 2014. We detect the three strongest rotational lines of C2H3CN in the frequency range of 230 to 232 GHz, each with >4σ confidence. Radiative transfer modeling suggests that most of the C2H3CN emission originates at altitudes of ≳200 km, in agreement with recent photochemical models. The vertical column densities implied by our best-fitting models lie in the range of 3.7 × 1013 to 1.4 × 1014 cm-2. The corresponding production rate of vinyl cyanide and its saturation mole fraction imply the availability of sufficient dissolved material to form ~107 cell membranes/cm3 in Titan's sea Ligeia Mare.

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