Large, shaky connections appear throughout the Solar System and new research can help to create confusion about how they arise in so many places.
This research is based on experiments inspired by laboratory experiments. From a strange peculiarity, scientists have noticed that the Saturn moon Titan spreads dune fields. These dunes are full of compounds called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons which have ring-shaped structures. On Titan, the dunes store a significant portion of the carbon of the moon. And because this moon is one of the most tempting quarries for astrobiologists to potentially find life beyond the earth, carbon concerns.
"These dunes are quite large," studies senior author Ralf Kaiser, a chemist at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, Space.com said, almost as tall as the Great Pyramid in Egypt, he added. "If you want to understand the carbon and hydrocarbon cycle and the processes of hydrocarbons on titanium, it's really important to understand where the dominant carbon source comes from."
Related: Saturn's lunar Titan may have phantom lakes and caves
On Titan there is a simple mechanism by which scientists know that he is probably polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons forms: These large molecules can form in the thick atmosphere of the moon and settle there surface. But the same family of compounds was found on many worlds that have no such atmosphere as the dwarf planets Pluto and Ceres and the Kuiper Belt object Makemake . ,
Kaiser and his colleagues wanted to find out how polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons can be produced in a world lacking an atmosphere to produce them. And when the researchers looked at Titan, they saw a clue: where the dunes are, there are not many types of hydrocarbons that are quite common on this moon.
The researchers wondered if a second process, one on which surface takes place, could turn ice like acetylene into polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Specifically, the scientists speculated that the culprit could be galactic cosmic rays energetic particles that crash over space.
Therefore, the researchers developed an experiment: Take some acetylene ice and expose it to a process that mimics galactic cosmic rays, and see what happens. They mimicked the effect of 1
The scientists found several different flavors of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. This suggested to the team that the interaction between hydrocarbons and galactic cosmic rays could actually explain the prevalence of the compounds, even though no atmosphere can form them.
"This is a pretty versatile process that can happen anywhere," Kaiser said. This includes not only titanium, but also other moons and asteroids, but also grains of interstellar dust and neighboring solar systems.
Next, he and his colleagues want to find out what kind of specific process is causing the transformation, Kaiser said. That's difficult, he said, because the ionizing radiation used by the team to simulate cosmic galactic rays involves several simultaneous processes.
The line of research is intriguing in both aesthetics and science: Michael Malaska examining planetary ice on the NASA jet The California Propulsion Laboratory, which was not involved in current research, told Space.com in an E -Mail with. "Their work also supports that part of Titan's sand can radiate pretty colors under UV light," he wrote.
The research was described in an article published yesterday (October 16) in the journal Science Advances.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to include a commentary by Michael Malaska. E-mail Meghan Bartels at [email protected] or follow her @meghanbartels . Follow us on Twitter @SpaceTotcom and Facebook .