Titan aerosol analogues: analysis of the nonvolatile tholins

Astrobiology. Winter 2003;3(4):719-26. doi: 10.1089/153110703322736042.


Laboratory experiments that produced tholins in a simulated Titan atmosphere were conducted. We report the first systematic analyses of these compounds using Fourier-transform ion cyclotron resonance mass spectrometry. The findings suggest surprising simplicity and nonrandomness in the mass distribution and regularity in species clusters. The degree of unsaturation generally increased with increasing molecular weight in a predictable fashion, and nitrogen is proposed as the dominant carrier of unsaturation. In detected compounds with a general formula of C(x)H(y)N(z), the carbon to nitrogen ratio (x/z) varied only slightly within a narrow limit, and decreased with increasing molecular weights. These compounds are of potential prebiotic interest since they sediment to the surface of Titan, and would dissolve readily in transient aqueous pools that might be generated from time to time by impacts and volcanic

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aerosols*
  • Atmosphere
  • Carbon / chemistry
  • Evolution, Chemical
  • Exobiology*
  • Extraterrestrial Environment*
  • Hydrogen
  • Ions
  • Mass Spectrometry
  • Methane
  • Nitrogen / chemistry
  • Saturn*


  • Aerosols
  • Ions
  • Carbon
  • Hydrogen
  • Nitrogen
  • Methane