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2009 Annual Science Report

University of Hawaii, Manoa Reporting  |  JUL 2008 – AUG 2009

Formation of Carbon and Nitrogen-Rich Organics in Solar System Ices

Project Summary

carbon and nitrogen-rich organics are essential to life as we know it, but how readily available were they on the primordial earth? clues about the composition of primordial material thar could be present come from irradiation experiments on the precursors already identified on interstellar ices

4 Institutions
3 Teams
1 Publication
0 Field Sites
Field Sites

Project Progress

Mixtures of molecular nitrogen and methane have been identified in numerous outer Solar System ices including the icy surfaces of Pluto and Triton. We have simulated the interaction of ionizing radiation in the Solar System by carrying out a radiolysis experiment on a methane – molecular nitrogen ice mixture with energetic electrons. We have identified the hydrogen cyanide molecule as the most prominent carbon–nitrogen-bearing reaction product formed. Upon warming the irradiated sample, we followed for the first time the kinetics and temporal evolution of the underlying acid–base chemistry which resulted in the formation of the cyanide ion from hydrogen cyanide. On the surfaces of Triton and Pluto and on comets in Oort’s cloud this sort of complex chemistry is likely to occur. In particular, hydrogen cyanide can be produced in low temperature environments (Oort cloud comets) and may be converted into cyanide ions once the comets reach the warmer regions of the Solar System.

    Chris Bennett
    Unspecified Role

    Corey Jamieson
    Unspecified Role

    Ralf Kaiser
    Unspecified Role

    Objective 1.1
    Formation and evolution of habitable planets.

    Objective 2.2
    Outer Solar System exploration

    Objective 3.1
    Sources of prebiotic materials and catalysts

    Objective 3.2
    Origins and evolution of functional biomolecules