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Unusual molecule found in atmosphere on Saturn’s moon Titan

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Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, is the only moon in our solar system that has a thick atmosphere. It’s four times denser than Earth’s. And now, scientists have discovered a molecule in it that has never been found in any other atmosphere, CNN has reported.

The particle is called cyclopropenylidene, or C3H2, and it’s made of carbon and hydrogen. This simple carbon-based molecule could be a precursor that contributes to chemical reactions that may create complex compounds. And those compounds could be the basis for potential life on Titan, the CNN report says.

The molecule was first noticed as researchers used the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array of telescopes in Chile. This radio telescope observatory captures a range of light signatures, which revealed the molecule among the unique chemistry of Titan’s atmosphere.

The study published earlier this month in the Astronomical Journal.

“When I realized I was looking at cyclopropenylidene, my first thought was, ‘Well, this is really unexpected,’” said lead study author Conor Nixon, planetary scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, in a statement.

Cyclopropenylidene has been detected elsewhere across our galaxy, mainly in molecular clouds of gas and dust including the Taurus Molecular Cloud. This cloud, where stars are born, is located 400 light-years away in the Taurus constellation. In these clouds, temperatures are too cold for many chemical reactions to occur.

Cyclopropenylidene has now been detected only in the Taurus Molecular Cloud and in the atmosphere of Titan.

But finding it in an atmosphere is a different story. This molecule can react easily when it collides with others to form something new. The researchers were likely able to spot it because they were looking through the upper layers of Titan’s atmosphere, where the molecule has fewer gases it can interact with.

“Titan is unique in our solar system,” Nixon said. “It has proved to be a treasure trove of new molecules.”

Cyclopropenylidene is the second cyclic or closed-loop molecule detected at Titan; the first was benzene in 2003. Benzene is an organic chemical compound composed of carbon and hydrogen atoms. On Earth, benzene is found in crude oil, is used as an industrial chemical and occurs naturally in the wake of volcanoes and forest fires.

Cyclic molecules are crucial because they form the backbone rings for the nucleobases of DNA, according to NASA.

“The cyclic nature of them opens up this extra branch of chemistry that allows you to build these biologically important molecules,” said study coauthor Alexander Thelen, an astrobiologist at Goddard, in a statement.

When the researchers discovered cyclopropenylidene in Titan’s atmosphere, they looked over data captured by NASA’s Cassini mission. The spacecraft performed 127 close flybys of Titan between 2004 and 2017. Cassini’s mass spectrometer detected a chemical signature of the same molecule, the researchers found.

“It’s a very weird little molecule, so it’s not going be the kind you learn about in high school chemistry or even undergraduate chemistry,” said c. Malaska was not involved with this study, but he researches Titan.

“Every little piece and part you can discover can help you put together the huge puzzle of all the things going on there.”

And discovering cyclopropenylidene on Titan adds to the moon’s intrigue.



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Six nabbed with over 100 kg of ‘Ice’

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By Norman Palihawadane and Ifham Nizam

The Police Narcotics Bureau (PNB) yesterday arrested six suspects in the Sapugaskanda Rathgahawatta area with more than 100 kilos of Crystal Methamphetamine also known as Ice.

Police Media Spokesman, Deputy Inspector General of Police, Ajith Rohana told the media that the PNB sleuths, acting on information elicited from a suspect in custody had found 91 packets of Ice.

A man in possession of 100 kilos of heroin was arrested in Modera during the weekend and revealed that a haul of Ice had been packed in plastic boxes.

The PNB seized more than 114 kilos of Ice from the possession of a single drug network.

According to the information elicited from the suspects, more than 100 kilos of Ice were found.

The PNB also arrested six persons including two women with 13 kilos of Ice, during an operation carried out in the Niwandama area in Ja-Ela on Sunday.

DIG Rohana said the ice had been packed in small plastic boxes and hidden in two school bags.

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PM intervenes to iron out differences among coalition partners

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By Norman Palihawadane

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa yesterday said that he was confident that differences among the constituents of the SLPP coalition as regards the May Day celebrations and the next Provincial Council elections could be ironed out soon.

Leaders of all SLPP allied parties have been invited to a special meeting to be held at Temple Trees with the PM presiding on April 19.

Prime Minister Rajapaksa said it was natural for members of a political alliance to have their own standpoints and views on matters of national importance. “This is due to the different political ideologies and identities. It is not something new when it comes to political alliances world over. In a way, it shows that there is internal democracy within our alliance.

The PM said: “As a result of that the allied parties may express their own views on issues, but that does not mean there is a threat to the unity of the alliance. An alliance is more vibrant and stronger not when all the parties think on the same lines but when the member parties have different ideologies.”

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Thilo Hoffman remembered

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A copy of the book “Politics of a Rainforest: Battles to save Sinharaja” was handed over to Dominik Furgler, the Swiss Ambassador in Sri Lanka by the author of the book, Dr. Prasanna Cooray at the Swiss Embassy in Colombo last Tuesday, to be sent to the family of the late Thilo Hoffman in Switzerland.

Hoffman, a Swiss national, who made Sri Lanka his second home for six decades, was a pioneering environmental activist who led the battles to save Sinharaja from the front in the early 1970s, abreast with the likes of Iranganie Serasinghe, Kamanie Vitharana, Lynn De Alwis and Nihal Fernando of the “Ruk Rekaganno” fame. That was the era when the trees of Sinharaja were felled for the production of plywood by the then government. Hoffman was also a livewire of the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society (WNPS) for a long time. Hoffman died in 2014 at the age of 92.

The book includes a chapter on Thilo Hoffman.

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