Peritectic Phase Transition of Benzene and Acetonitrile and Formation of a Cocrystal Relevant to Titan, Saturn’s Icy Moon

Benzene and acetonitrile are two of the most commonly used solvents found in almost every chemical laboratory. Titan, Saturn’s icy moon, is one other place in the Solar system that has even larger amounts of these compounds, together with many other hydrocarbons. On Titan, organic molecules are produced in the atmosphere and carried by methane rainfall to the surface, where they either dissolve in the lakes, deposit as sandy dunes, or solidify as minerals with complex composition and structure. In order to untangle these structural complexities a reliable model of the phase behavior of these compounds at temperatures relevant to Titan is crucial. We therefore report the composition–temperature binary phase diagram of acetonitrile and benzene, and provide a detailed account of the structure and composition of the phases. This work is based on differential scanning calorimetry and in situ powder diffraction analyses with synchrotron X-ray radiation and supported by theoretical modeling. Benzene and acetonitrile were found to undergo a peritectic reaction into a cocrystal with a 1:3 acetonitrile:benzene stoichiometry. The crystal structure was solved and refined in the polar space group, R3, and the solution was confirmed and optimized by energy minimization calculations. To mimic the environment on Titan more accurately, we tested the stability of the structure under liquid ethane. The diffraction data indicate that the cocrystal undergoes further change upon contact with ethane. These results provide new insights into the structure and stability of a potential mineral on Titan, and contribute to the fundamental knowledge of some of the smallest organic molecules