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Tholins and their relevance for astrophysical issues

  • E. Quirico (a1), C. Szopa (a2), G. Cernogora (a2), V. Lees (a3), S. Derenne (a4), P. F. McMillan (a3), G. Montagnac (a5), B. Reynard (a5), J-N Rouzaud (a6), N. Fray (a7), P. Coll (a7), F. Raulin (a7), B. Schmitt (a1) and B. Minard (a8)...

Abstract

Tholins are polymeric hydrogenated carbon nitrides formed from N2:CH4 mixtures exposed to electrical discharges. They are complex disordered solids, and their structural chemistry and formation processes are not yet fully understood. Tholins have been widely adopted as useful analogs of reddish organic solids associated with planetary bodies or in interstellar space (e.g., Titan's aerosols, reddish surfaces of outer objects, interstellar organics, etc.) for fitting astronomical observations. However, there has been little evidence to date that they in fact constitute pertinent model materials, i. e. with chemical structure/composition similar to those presumed to be present in planetary or interstellar organic solids. In this contribution, we first review recent advances made regarding the determination of composition and structure of tholins produced in the laboratory. They point to a high chemical selectivity in the range of functional groups present, the control of unsaturation by nitrogen, and the highly disordered character of the structures. In a second section, we discuss the relationship between chemistry and the optical properties of tholins, and we point out the lack of a unique relationship between the shape and strength of the visible absorption bands and the chemical composition or structure of the model tholins. The tholins exhibit similarities with HCN “polymers”, that are suspected to be present in cometary refractory dust. This points to the existence of possible similar polymerisation processes, and it suggests they could also be used as analogs of N-rich cometary organics. Laboratory-based studies of cometary dust might offer new insights on the “chemical relevancy” of tholins, as combined micro-analytical techniques will allow direct comparison of chemical information between the materials produced. In a third section we present recent results pertaining to the search for such compounds in cometary grains (Stardust grains, interplanetary dust particles - IDPs). We show that some N-rich spots in stratospheric IDPs are rich in cyanide species, but no tholin-like compounds or polymeric HCN have been detected to date.

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References

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