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Researchers unravel chemical makeup & origin of dunes in Saturn's moon Titan

Researchers unravel chemical makeup & origin of dunes in Saturns moon Titan

Los Angeles: Scientists have found the chemical composition of organic dust dunes present on Saturn's moon Titan, an advance that sheds more light on the mechanism by which carbon-based structures form in extreme cold environments in space.

The researchers, including those from the University of Hawaii (UH) at Manoa in the US, examined remote sensing data from NASA's Cassini-Huygens mission to Titan -- the only body in our solar system, besides the Earth, with a solid surface, lakes, and a thick atmosphere with a pressure of about 1.5 atmosphere at surface level.

The images from the mission exposed the existence of vast longitudinal dunes on Titan's surface across its equatorial deserts reaching heights of up to 100 meters, the study, published in the journal Science Advances, noted.

Earlier imaging studies revealed that Titan's dunes contained dark organic chemicals, compared to the dunes on the Earth that are made of silicates or a large class of other minerals.

The researchers exposed acetylene ice -- a chemical that is used on Earth in welding torches and exists at Titan's cold equatorial regions -- to radiation similar to high-energy galactic cosmic rays.

They subjected the acetylene ice to a chemical reaction process that formed more complex organic molecules

like benzene and naphthalene - a compound which is found in mothballs..

These chemical processes, the researchers said, also happen in the interstellar medium - the space between stars - on hydrocarbon rich layers of interstellar nanoparticles.

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