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Neutron(n)-capture elements (atomic number Z > 30), which can be produced in planetary nebula (PN) progenitor stars via s-process nucleosynthesis, have been detected in nearly 100 PNe. This demonstrates that nebular spectroscopy is a potentially powerful tool for studying the production and chemical evolution of trans-iron elements. However, significant challenges must be addressed before this goal can be achieved. One of the most substantial hurdles is the lack of atomic data for n-capture elements, particularly that needed to solve for their ionization equilibrium (and hence to convert ionic abundances to elemental abundances). To address this need, we have computed photoionization cross sections and radiative and dielectronic recombination rate coefficients for the first six ions of Se and Kr. The calculations were benchmarked against experimental photoionization cross section measurements. In addition, we computed charge transfer (CT) rate coefficients for ions of six n-capture elements. These efforts will enable the accurate determination of nebular Se and Kr abundances, allowing robust investigations of s-process enrichments in PNe.
We have initiated an extensive program of molecular analysis of extraterrestrial organic matter isolated from a broad range of meteorites (spanning multiple classes, groups, and petrologic types), including recent molecular spectroscopic analyses of the organic matter in the Comet 81P/Wild 2 samples. The results of these analyses clearly reveal the signature of multiple reaction pathways that transformed extraterrestrial organic matter away from its primitive roots. The most significant molecular transformation occurred in the post-accretionary phase of the parent body. However, each of the various chemical transformation trajectories point unambiguously back to a common primitive origin. Applying a wide range of spectroscopic techniques we find that the primitive organic precursor is striking in its chemical complexity exhibiting a broad array of oxygen- and nitrogen-bearing functional groups. The π-bonded carbon exists as predominately highly substituted single ring aromatics, there exists no evidence for abundant, large, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). We find that the molecular structure of primitive extraterrestrial organics is consistent with synthesis from small reactive molecules, e. g. formaldehyde, whose random condensation and subsequent rearrangement chemistry at low temperatures leads to a highly cross-linked macromolecule.