Tholins: A Study of Chemistry in Titan's Atmosphere

Walter Para, Donghui Quan


Titan, one of the moons of Saturn, has an atmosphere rich in organic molecules. It is similar to the atmosphere of Primordial Earth. In Titan’s atmosphere, there are highly abundant conjugated organonitrogen hetero-polymers called Tholins. Experimental studies have revealed that Tholins can react with nitric acid solution to produce amino acids, suggesting that these compounds could help
initiate the life on Earth. To better understand the chemistry of Tholins, computer modeling is necessary. This work focuses on investigation of a radical reaction pathway involving hydrogen cyanide and methanimine that could lead to Tholin formation, along with analysis of other potential species that could have a role in Tholin synthesis. The specific compounds that were examined were
hydrogen cyanide, a radical form of methanimine, and cyanamide. A gas phase chemical reaction model was built to simulate Titan’s atmosphere. Role of reactions of studied compounds were carefully examined in the gas model. In addition, Gaussian was used to compute energies, dipole moments, and
other properties of these compounds. The conclusions reached in this work were that Tholin synthesis is a result of hydrogen cyanide and cyanamide polymerization.


Tholins; Titan; Tholin; Astrochemistry

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