Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 June 2012
Cosmochemistry is defined, and its relationship to geochemistry is explained. We describe the historical beginnings of cosmochemistry, and the lines of research that coalesced into the field of cosmochemistry are discussed. We then briefly introduce the tools of cosmochemistry and the datasets that have been produced by these tools. The relationships between cosmochemistry and geochemistry, on the one hand, and astronomy, astrophysics, and geology, on the other, are considered.
What is cosmochemistry?
A significant portion of the universe is comprised of elements, ions, and the compounds formed by their combinations – in effect, chemistry on the grandest scale possible. These chemical components can occur as gases or superheated plasmas, less commonly as solids, and very rarely as liquids.
Cosmochemistry is the study of the chemical composition of the universe and the processes that produced those compositions. This is a tall order, to be sure. Understandably, cosmochemistry focuses primarily on the objects in our own solar system, because that is where we have direct access to the most chemical information. That part of cosmochemistry encompasses the compositions of the Sun, its retinue of planets and their satellites, the almost innumerable asteroids and comets, and the smaller samples (meteorites, interplanetary dust particles or “IDPs,” returned lunar samples) derived from them. From their chemistry, determined by laboratory measurements of samples or by various remote-sensing techniques, cosmochemists try to unravel the processes that formed or affected them and to fix the chronology of these events.