Carbon chain anions and the growth of complex organic molecules in Titan's ionosphere
Publication date: 27 July 2017
Authors: Desai, R.T., et al.
Journal: The Astrophysical Journal Letters
Copyright: © 2017. The American Astronomical Society
Cassini discovered a plethora of neutral and ionized molecules in Titan's ionosphere including, surprisingly, anions and negatively charged molecules extending up to 13,800 u q-1. In this Letter, we forward model the Cassini electron spectrometer response function to this unexpected ionospheric component to achieve an increased mass resolving capability for negatively charged species observed at Titan altitudes of 950–1300 km. We report on detections consistently centered between 25.8 and 26.0 u q-1 and between 49.0–50.1 u q-1 which are identified as belonging to the carbon chain anions, CN-/C3N- and/or C2H-/C4H-, in agreement with chemical model predictions. At higher ionospheric altitudes, detections at 73–74 u q-1 could be attributed to the further carbon chain anions C5N-/C6H- but at lower altitudes and during further encounters extend over a higher mass/charge range. This, as well as further intermediary anions detected at >100 u, provide the first evidence for efficient anion chemistry in space involving structures other than linear chains. Furthermore, at altitudes below <1100 km, the low-mass anions (<150 u q-1) were found to deplete at a rate proportional to the growth of the larger molecules, a correlation that indicates the anions are tightly coupled to the growth process. This study adds Titan to an increasing list of astrophysical environments where chain anions have been observed and shows that anion chemistry plays a role in the formation of complex organics within a planetary atmosphere as well as in the interstellar medium.Link to publication