Survival of organic compounds in ejecta from hypervelocity impacts on ice

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22 Citations (Scopus)


Hypervelocity impacts (HVIs) where organic-bearing ice constitutes the target material are important in several aspects of planetary and space science: ( I) sampling of planetary Surfaces using a hypervelocity projectile to impact the surface and eject surface materials for Measurement or collection by it spacecraft; (2) the transfer of organic material between planetary bodies; and (3) providing energy for chemical processes involving surface materials. While small organic molecules ( similar to 6 carbon atoms), if present ill surface materials, will likely be present in HVI-ejecta, uncertainty remains for larger organic molecules. It is the larger molecular weight compounds which Could constitute direct evidence of life, and thus their Survival within an HVI-ejecta plume is of key importance when evaluating strategies for life detection on icy bodies. It is not currently known what large organic molecules. and in what concentrations, may be present on icy bodies in the Solar System, but it is highly likely some will be more chemically stable during it HVI than others. Accordingly, in this Study we examined it range of chemicals (beta,beta carotene, stearic acid and anthracene) with molecular weights between 178 and 536 daltons, and three different types of chemical structure. The compounds were solvated in a dimethylsulfoxide-water mixture and frozen. The frozen targets were impacted with steel spheres I and 1.5 mm in diameter Lit velocities of about 4.9 km s(-1). Ice ejected during the impact was collected and underwent chemical analysis. The most labile compound (beta,beta carotene) was only detected (in small amounts) in the ejecta (and only that emitted Lit the lowest angles of ejection), although the other compounds were present in larger quantities and Lit a range of ejection angles. A concentration gradient was observed within the ejecta its it function of angle of ejection. This wits not the same for both stearic acid and anthracene: the greatest concentrations of stearic acid were found at shallow angles of ejection whereas anthracene was most abundant at both intermediate and large angles of ejection, implying an inverted concentration gradient. These observations may indicate that organic compounds are variably altered and destroyed during a HVI with ice and that the ejecta plume does not sample the original materials equally at all angles of ejection. Future work is planned and will evaluate fractional survival for a greater range of compound types, impact materials and velocities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)19-25
Number of pages7
JournalInternational Journal of Astrobiology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2009


  • ejecta
  • hypervelocity
  • ice
  • organic
  • survival
  • shock synthesis
  • satellites
  • constituents
  • surfaces
  • water
  • life
  • salt


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