Abundant Ammonium Hydrosulphide Embedded In Cometary Dust Grains

By Keith Cowing
Press Release
September 4, 2022
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Abundant Ammonium Hydrosulphide Embedded In Cometary Dust Grains
Ammonium hydrosulfide

Ammonium hydrosulphide has long since been postulated to exist at least in certain layers of the giant planets. Its radiation products may be the reason for the red colour seen on Jupiter. Several ammonium salts, the products of NH3 and an acid, have previously been detected at comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

The acid H2S is the fifth most abundant molecule in the coma of 67P followed by NH3. In order to look for the salt NH4+SH-, we analysed in situ measurements from the Rosetta/ROSINA Double Focusing Mass Spectrometer during the Rosetta mission. NH3 and H2S appear to be independent of each other when sublimating directly from the nucleus. However, we observe a strong correlation between the two species during dust impacts, clearly pointing to the salt.

We find that NH4+SH- is by far the most abundant salt, more abundant in the dust impacts than even water. We also find all previously detected ammonium salts and for the first time ammonium fluoride. The amount of ammonia and acids balance each other, confirming that ammonia is mostly in the form of salt embedded into dust grains. Allotropes S2 and S3 are strongly enhanced in the impacts, while H2S2 and its fragment HS2 are not detected, which is most probably the result of radiolysis of NH4+SH-.

This makes a prestellar origin of the salt likely. Our findings may explain the apparent depletion of nitrogen in comets and maybe help to solve the riddle of the missing sulphur in star forming regions.

K. Altwegg, M. Combi, S. A. Fuselier, N. Hänni, J. De Keyser, A. Mahjoub, D. R. Müller, B. Pestoni, M. Rubin, S. F. Wampfler

Comments: accepted by MNRAS
Subjects: Earth and Planetary Astrophysics (astro-ph.EP)
Cite as: arXiv:2208.11396 [astro-ph.EP] (or arXiv:2208.11396v1 [astro-ph.EP] for this version)
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Submission history
From: Kathrin Altwegg
[v1] Wed, 24 Aug 2022 09:38:09 UTC (8,349 KB)
Full paper:
Astrobiology, Astrochemistry

Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA Space Station Payload manager/space biologist, Away Teams, Journalist, Lapsed climber, Synaesthete, Na’Vi-Jedi-Freman-Buddhist-mix, ASL, Devon Island and Everest Base Camp veteran, (he/him) 🖖🏻