Scientists supported by NASA have conducted research suggesting that Saturn’s moon Titan may provide an environment in which a specific compound relevant to the origins of life on Earth, called malononitrile, could be formed.
Malononitrile is a highly reactive compound that may have played a role in the formation of nucleobases and nucleosides, which are essential components of RNA and DNA, before life began on Earth. Despite its importance in prebiotic chemistry and astrobiology, scientists have been unable to demonstrate how malononitrile is created on Earth, and it has not yet been detected in space.
In their study, the research team proposes that Titan’s atmosphere could be a suitable environment for the formation and persistence of malononitrile. The research paper discusses the feasibility of malononitrile synthesis under the conditions present in Titan’s upper atmosphere, considering chemicals that have been detected by spacecraft missions like Cassini, as well as those predicted to exist based on our current knowledge of Titan.
This study was published in ACS Earth Space Chemistry and is an exciting step in understanding the potential for the creation of life-related compounds in our solar system.