The cold seashores of Saturn's moon, Titan, may be covered with strange, supernatural minerals, according to new research presented here.
Scientists create titan-like conditions in their laboratory have discovered new compounds and minerals that are not found on Earth, including a cocyst of solid acetylene and butane.
Acetylene and butane are gases present on Earth and are commonly used for welding and heating bearings. On titanium, acetylene and butane, with their extremely cold temperatures, are solid and together form crystals.
The new mineral might be responsible for the bathtub rings that are believed to exist in the vicinity of Titan's hydrocarbon lakes Morgan Cable of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology, who will conduct new research on Monday's Astrobiology Science Conference 201
Titan lakes are filled with liquid hydrocarbons. Previous research using images and data collected during the mission Cassini has shown that lakes in the dry lunar regions near the equator contain traces of vaporized material, such as rings on a bathtub.
Like the conditions in the lab, researchers began with a custom-made cryostat, an apparatus that keeps things cold. They filled the cryostat with liquid nitrogen to lower the temperature. Then they heated the chamber slightly, turning the nitrogen into gas, which is mainly the case in the titanium atmosphere. Next, they spewed an abundance of titanium, methane, and ethane and other carbon-containing molecules, searching for what formed.
The first things that fell out of their titanium hydrocarbon soup were benzene crystals. Benzene is perhaps best known as a constituent of gasoline and is a snowflake-shaped molecule consisting of a hexagonal ring of carbon atoms. However, titanium benzene surprised: The molecules rearranged and made ethane molecules into a co-crystal.
The researchers then discovered the acetylene and butane co-crystal, which is probably more abundant on titanium than benzene crystals.
In the cold climate of the moon, the acetylene-butane co-crystals could form rings around the lakes of the Moon form when the liquid hydrocarbons evaporate and the minerals fall out Thus, according to Cable, salts can form crusts on the shores of lakes and oceans of the earth.
To confirm that titanium tub rings are made of co-crystals and other undiscovered hydrocarbon crystals, scientists must wait for a spaceship to do so. Visit the shores of this moon, Cable said.
"We do not know yet if we have these bathtub rings," Cable said. "It's hard to see through the murky atmosphere of Titan."
More information: "The Acetylene-Butane Co-Crystal: A Potentially Common Molecular Mineral on Titan"