Natural color image shows Titan's upper atmosphere
This natural color image shows Titan's upper atmosphere -- an active place where methane molecules are being broken apart by solar ultraviolet light and the byproducts combine to form compounds like ethane and acetylene.
› Full image and caption

Cassini has made a surprising detection of a molecule that is instrumental in producing complex organics within the hazy atmosphere of Saturn's moon Titan. In a new study published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, scientists identified what are known as "carbon chain anions." These linear molecules are understood to be building blocks of more complex molecules, and might even have acted as the basis for the earliest forms of life on Earth.

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Preston Dyches
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.