Towards Prebiotic Chemistry On Titan: Impact Experiments On Organic Haze Particles

By Keith Cowing
Press Release
March 5, 2024
Filed under , , , , , , ,
Towards Prebiotic Chemistry On Titan: Impact Experiments On Organic Haze Particles
Blank-subtracted GC/MS/MS chromatograms for the six shocked and unshocked samples in this study — astro-ph.IM

Impacts are critical to producing the aqueous environments necessary to stimulate prebiotic chemistry on Titan’s surface. Furthermore, organic hazes resting on the surface are a likely feedstock of biomolecules. In this work, we conduct impact experiments on laboratory-produced organic haze particles and haze/sand mixtures and analyze these samples for life’s building blocks.

Samples of unshocked haze and sand particles are also analyzed to determine the change in biomolecule concentrations and distributions from shocking. Across all samples, we detect seven nucleobases, nine proteinogenic amino acids, and five other biomolecules (e.g., urea) using a blank subtraction procedure to eliminate signals due to contamination.

We find that shock pressures of 13 GPa variably degrade nucleobases, amino acids, and a few other organics in haze particles and haze/sand mixtures; however, certain individual biomolecules become enriched or are even produced from these events. Xanthine, threonine, and aspartic acid are enriched or produced in impact experiments containing sand, suggesting these minerals may catalyze the production of these biomolecules.

On the other hand, thymine and isoleucine/norleucine are enriched or produced in haze samples containing no sand, suggesting catalytic grains are not necessary for all impact shock syntheses. Uracil, glycine, proline, cysteine, and tyrosine are the most unstable to impact-related processing.

These experiments suggest that impacts alter biomolecule distributions on Titan’s surface, and that organic hazes co-occurring with fine-grained material on the surface may provide an initial source for further prebiotic chemistry on Titan.

Ben K. D. Pearce, Sarah M. Hörst, Christopher J. Cline, Mark J. Cintala, Chao He, Joshua A. Sebree, Shannon M. MacKenzie, R. Terik Daly, Alexandra J. Pontefract, Cara Pesciotta

Comments: Accepted to PSJ. 13 pages, 3 tables, 7 figures
Subjects: Instrumentation and Methods for Astrophysics (astro-ph.IM); Earth and Planetary Astrophysics (astro-ph.EP); Biological Physics (physics.bio-ph); Chemical Physics (physics.chem-ph); Space Physics (physics.space-ph)
Cite as: arXiv:2403.00029 [astro-ph.IM] (or arXiv:2403.00029v1 [astro-ph.IM] for this version)
Submission history
From: Ben K. D. Pearce PhD
[v1] Wed, 28 Feb 2024 19:03:21 UTC (6,044 KB)
astrobiology, astrochemistry,

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