Synthesis of N-substituted Cyclic Hydrocarbons, such as Pyrimidine, in The Ionosphere of Titan

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Partha P Bera1, Roberto Peverati2, Martin Head-Gordon2 and Timothy J Lee3, (1)NASA - Ames Research Center, Mountain View, CA, United States, (2)University of California Berkeley, Berkeley, CA, United States, (3)NASA Ames Research Ctr, Moffett Field, CA, United States
The instruments on board the CASSINI spacecraft observed large carbonaceous molecules in the upper atmosphere of Titan. How these large polyatomic molecules are synthesized in such exotic conditions is, thus far, unknown. Molecular ions, including positive and negative ions, are in relative abundance in the ionosphere of Titan. Hence, barrierless ion-molecule interactions may play a major role in guiding molecules towards each other and initiating reactions. We study these condensation pathways to determine whether they are a viable means of forming large pure hydrocarbon molecules, and nitrogen-containing carbonaceous chains, stacks, and even cyclic compounds. By employing accurate quantum chemical methods we have investigated the processes of growth, structures, nature of bonding, mechanisms, and spectroscopic properties of the ensuing ionic products after pairing small carbon, hydrogen, and nitrogen-containing molecules with major ions observed in the upper atmosphere of Titan, e.g. C2H5+ and HCNH+. We have also studied the ion-neutral association pathways involving pure-carbon molecules e.g. acetylene, ethylene and other hydrocarbons, and their dissociation fragments in a plasma discharge. We have investigated how nitrogen atoms are incorporated into the carbon ring during growth. Specifically, we explored the mechanisms by which the synthesis of pyrimidine will be feasible in the atmosphere of Titan in conjunction with ion-mobility experiments. We have used accurate ab initio coupled cluster theory, Møller-Plesset perturbation theory, density functional theory, and coupled cluster theory quantum chemical methods together with large correlation consistent basis sets in these investigations. We found that a series of hydrocarbons with a specific stoichiometric composition prefers cyclic molecule formation rather than chains. Some of the association products we investigated have large oscillator strengths for charge-transfer type electronic excitations in the near infrared and visible regions of the electromagnetic spectrum. Our quantum chemistry computations complement well the results from the molecular/ion plasma experiments performed by the Laboratory Astrochemistry groups at Ames.