Prebiological chemistry in Titan's atmosphere

Science Frontiers Issue #: 

From the abstract of the referenced paper:

"An organic heteropolymer (Titan tholin) was produced by continuous dc discharge through a 0.9 N2 / 0.1 CH4 gas mixture at 0.2 mbar pressure, roughly simulating the cloudtop atmosphere of Titan [one of Saturn's moons]. Treatment of this tholin with 6N HCl yielded 16 amino acids by gas chromatography after derivatization to N-trifluroacetyl isopropyl esters on two different capillary columns...The presence of 'nonbiological' amino acids, the absence of serine, and the fact that the amino acids are racemic within experimental error together indicate that these molecules are not due to microbiol or other contamination, but are derived from the tholin...These results suggest that episodes of liquid water in the past or future of Titan might lead to major further steps in the probiological organic chemistry on that body."

(Khare, Bishun N., et al; "Amino Acids Derived from Titan Tholins," Icarus, 68:176, 1986.)