Survival of organic materials in hypervelocity impacts of ice on sand, ice, and water in the laboratory

Mark J Burchell, Stephen A Bowden, Michael Cole, Mark C Price, John Parnell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Citations (Scopus)
9 Downloads (Pure)


The survival of organic molecules in shock impact events has been investigated in the laboratory. A frozen mixture of anthracene and stearic acid, solvated in dimethylsulfoxide (DMSO), was fired in a two-stage light gas gun at speeds of ~2 and ~4 km s(-1) at targets that included water ice, water, and sand. This involved shock pressures in the range of 2-12 GPa. It was found that the projectile materials were present in elevated quantities in the targets after impact and in some cases in the crater ejecta as well. For DMSO impacting water at 1.9 km s(-1) and 45° incidence, we quantify the surviving fraction after impact as 0.44±0.05. This demonstrates successful transfer of organic compounds from projectile to target in high-speed impacts. The range of impact speeds used covers that involved in impacts of terrestrial meteorites on the Moon, as well as impacts in the outer Solar System on icy bodies such as Pluto. The results provide laboratory evidence that suggests that exogenous delivery of complex organic molecules from icy impactors is a viable source of such material on target bodies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)473-485
Number of pages13
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 13 Jun 2014


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