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2013 Annual Science Report

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Reporting  |  SEP 2012 – AUG 2013

Project 4: Survival of Sugars in Ice/Mineral Mixtures on High Velocity Impact

Project Summary

Understanding the delivery and preservation of organic molecules in meteoritic material is important to understanding the origin of life on Earth. Though we know that organic molecules are abundant in meteorites, comets, and interplanetary dust particles, few studies have examined how impact processes affect their chemistry and survivability under extreme temperatures and pressures. We are investigating how impact events may change the structure of simple sugars, both alone and when combined with ice mixtures. The experiments will allow us to understand how sugar chemistry is affected by high pressure events and to contrast the survival probabilities of sugars in meteorite and comet impacts. This will lead to a better understanding of how organic molecules are affected during their delivery to Earth. This project leverages expertise in two different NAI nodes, increasing collaborative interaction among NAI investigators.

4 Institutions
3 Teams
1 Publication
0 Field Sites
Field Sites

Project Progress

The goal of this project is to evaluate and understand how shock affects the chemistry of simple molecules that may have been delivered to a planet or icy moon via comets, asteroids, and/or interplanetary dust particles. During this past year, we continued laboratory analyses of shocked samples of simple sugars, and we returned to the Experimental Impact Laboratory (EIL) to conduct a set of experiments with the flat-plate accelerator (FPA). This time, we included minerals that mimic meteorite compositions. We are finding that many complex molecules are formed in samples that, prior to the impact shock, contained only the simple sugars. A paper describing these results is currently under review. The staff at the EIL continues to trouble-shoot issues in order to reconfigure the FPA for the ice experiments.

One undergraduate student wrote a senior thesis describing the results of the shock experiments with glycolaldehyde, while another traveled with us to the Johnson Space Center to conduct experiments involving simple molecules in mineral matrices.

Oral and poster conference presentations of this work occurred at the annual meeting of the Michigan Space Grant Consortium (2012), at the American Chemical Society Meeting (2013), at the Stars to Life Conference (2013), at the Albion College Elkin Isaac Student Symposium (April 2013), and during the NASA Astrobiology Institute Workshop Without Walls: Hadean Earth-Moon System (2013).

    Nicolle Zellner Nicolle Zellner
    Project Investigator
    Murthy Gudipati

    Vanessa McCaffrey

    Objective 1.1
    Formation and evolution of habitable planets.

    Objective 3.1
    Sources of prebiotic materials and catalysts

    Objective 4.1
    Earth's early biosphere.

    Objective 4.3
    Effects of extraterrestrial events upon the biosphere