Exploring the Origins of Earth's Nitrogen: Astronomical Observations of Nitrogen-bearing Organics in Protostellar Environments


Hydrogen Cyanide

It is not known whether the original carriers of Earth's nitrogen were molecular ices or refractory dust.

To investigate this question, we have used data and results of Herschel observations towards two pro- tostellar sources: the high-mass hot core of Orion KL, and the low-mass protostar IRAS 16293−2422. Towards Orion KL, our analysis of the molecular inventory of Crockett et al. (2014b) indicates that HCN is the organic molecule that contains by far the most nitrogen, carrying 74+5% of nitrogen-in- −9 organics. Following this evidence, we explore HCN towards IRAS 16293−2422, which we consider a solar analog.

Towards IRAS 16293−2422, we have reduced and analyzed Herschel spectra of HCN, and fit these observations against "jump" abundance models of IRAS 16293−2422's protostellar envelope. We find an inner-envelope HCN abundance Xin= 5.9 ± 0.7 × 10−8 and an outer-envelope HCN abun- dance Xout= 1.3±0.1×10−9. We also find the sublimation temperature of HCN to be Tjump= 71±3 K; this measured Tjump enables us to predict an HCN binding energy EB/k = 3840 ± 140 K. Based on a comparison of the HCN/H2O ratio in these protostars to N/H2O ratios in comets, we find that HCN (and, by extension, other organics) in these protostars is incapable of providing the total bulk N/H2O in comets. We suggest that refractory dust, not molecular ices, was the bulk provider of nitrogen to comets.

However, interstellar dust is not known to have 15N enrichment, while high 15N enrichment is seen in both nitrogen-bearing ices and in cometary nitrogen. This may indicate that these 15N-enriched ices were an important contributor to the nitrogen in planetesimals and likely to the Earth.

Thomas S. Rice, Edwin A. Bergin, Jes K. Jørgensen, S. F. Wampfler
(Submitted on 20 Sep 2018)

Comments: Accepted to ApJ; 21 pages, 4 figures
Subjects: Solar and Stellar Astrophysics (astro-ph.SR); Astrophysics of Galaxies (astro-ph.GA)
Cite as: arXiv:1809.07514 [astro-ph.SR] (or arXiv:1809.07514v1 [astro-ph.SR] for this version)
Submission history
From: Thomas Rice
[v1] Thu, 20 Sep 2018 07:54:52 GMT (594kb,D)

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