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NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory - Titan
02/2009 - 01/2015 (CAN 5)

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Titan as a Prebiotic Chemical System

The NAI JPL-Titan Team will conduct an interdisciplinary investigation of prebiotic chemistry on Titan in the context of Titan’s physical environment to provide a basis for understanding the prebiotic chemistry of the early Earth. Although Titan is far from the Sun and hence cold, solar radiation interacts with the methane rich atmosphere to initiate the formation of complex organic molecules and aerosols that eventually deposit on Titan’s geologically active surface, where further chemical evolution leading to the origin of life could occur. The team’s work is organized into three themes:

Titan’s geology—places where organic chemistry can operate

  • Geological places where atmospheric organics can react with water
  • Extent of mixing between hydrocarbons and ice

The complexity of atmospheric organic chemistry

  • Gas phase chemical composition
  • Aerosol formation, composition, and transport
  • In situ atmospheric chemical analysis approaches

The evolved chemical state of the Titan surface

  • Reaction of organic compounds with water, ammonia, and mineral catalysts
  • Solubilities and material properties in liquid methane/ethane
  • Cosmic radiation chemistry in surface materials
  • Surface sampling approaches and analytic protocols

Annual Reports