ALMA detection and astrobiological potential of vinyl cyanide on Titan

Maureen Y. Palmer*, Martin A. Cordiner, Conor A. Nixon, Steven B. Charnley, Nicholas A. Teanby, Zbigniew Kisiel, Patrick G.J. Irwin, Michael J. Mumma

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

56 Citations (Scopus)
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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 >4δ 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.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1700022
Number of pages6
JournalScience Advances
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 5 Jul 2017


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