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The insoluble organic material (IOM) in primitive meteorites is related to the organic material in interplanetary dust particles and comets, and is probably related to the refractory organic material in the diffuse interstellar medium. If the IOM is representative of refractory ISM organics, models for how and from what it formed will have to be revised.
Meteorites and Interplanetary Dust Particles (IDPs) are supposed to originate from asteroids and comets, sampling the most primitive bodies in the Solar System. They contain abundant carbonaceous material. Some of this, mostly insoluble organic matter (IOM), likely originated in the protosolar molecular cloud, based on spectral properties and H and N isotope characteristics. Together with cometary material returned with the Stardust mission, these samples provide a benchmark for models aiming to understand organic chemistry in the interstellar medium, as well as for mechanisms that secured the survival of these fragile molecules during Solar System formation. The carrier molecules of the isotope anomalies are largely unknown, although amorphous carbonaceous spheres, so-called nanoglobules, have been identified as carriers. We are using Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometry to identify isotopically anomalous material in meteoritic IOM and IDPs at a ~100-200 nm scale. Organics of most likely interstellar origin are then extracted with the Focused-Ion-Beam technique and prepared for synchrotron X-ray and Transmission Electron Microscopy. These experiments yield information on the character of the H- and N-bearing interstellar molecules: While the association of H and N isotope anomalies with nanoglobules could be confirmed, we have also identified amorphous, micron-sized monolithic grains. D-enrichments in meteoritic IOM appear not to be systematically associated with any specific functional groups, whereas 15N-rich material can be related to imine and nitrile functionality. The large 15N- enrichments observed here (δ15N > 1000 ‰) cannot be reconciled with models using interstellar ammonia ice reactions, and hence, provide new constraints for understanding the chemistry in cold interstellar clouds.
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.
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