You may wonder what an alien world looks like? What its atmosphere might hold? Whether its terrain is similar to Earth’s or even if it holds an extra-terrestrial life? But have you ever wondered what it might smell like?
Well, that’s just what NASA scientists have done by coming up with a recipe to figure out the aromatics of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan.
In lab experiments, to simulate Titan’s chemistry, the space agency’s researchers have been able to classify a previously unidentified material that was discovered by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft.
Now we can say that this material has a strong aromatic character, which helps us understand more about the complex mixture of molecules that makes up Titan’s haze,” said Melissa Trainer, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre.
A device called, Cassini’s Composite Infrared Spectrometer had already detected the material around the hazy moon as it can make observations at wavelengths in the far infrared region, beyond red light. The spectral signature of the material suggested that it was made up of a mixture of molecules, so scientists went back to basics and started mixing gases up in the lab.
Through it, NASA was able to approximate the initial mixture. It was a matter of matching it as close to the captured colors as possible.
The trouble was always that Titan’s atmosphere with its dark orange hue could be a result of a number of chemical mixtures, because what was visible from the outset is the sheer number of aromatic hydrocarbons in the moon’s atmosphere.
However, by the time the scientists got tired of all the mixtures (nitrogen and methane) and stuff,it suddenly occurred to them to try adding a third gas – benzene. That’s when they got closer than anyone else at figuring out Titan’s taste and smell. It was then a matter of juggling it with some other possible options, all belonging to the subfamily of aromatics – a type of hydrocarbon.
According to Scott Edgington of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory,
Now that the resulting mixture has given scientists a much bigger chance at understanding the precise mixture of gases in the unseen areas of Titan’s atmosphere, the ‘veritable zoo of complex molecules’ can only continue to give us a more expansive picture of just how complex and wondrous this Earth-like moon really is.”
The project and the accompanying study, published in Icarus, have been sanctioned by the space agency’s Planetary Atmospheres program, although the Cassini-Huygens mission has been carried out in concert with the European Space Agency (ESA).
via Astronomy Magazine