Organic compounds in asteroids formed in cold areas of space

A significant breakthrough in space exploration has challenged previous beliefs about the origins of organic compounds in celestial bodies. Scientists from Curtin University in Australia have discovered that polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), commonly found on Earth as well as in asteroids and meteorites, are likely formed in the cold regions of space rather than in the vicinity of stars. This finding, derived from a study involving controlled burnings of Australian plants to produce PAHs, opens up new possibilities for understanding the chemistry of celestial objects and the potential for life beyond Earth.

The research team, led by ARC Laureate Fellow John Curtin Distinguished Professor Kliti Grice, director of WA-OIGC, analyzed PAHs extracted from fragments of the Ryugu asteroid, which were returned to Earth by a Japanese spacecraft in 2020, and the Murchison meteorite that landed in Australia in 1969. By comparing the isotopic composition of these samples with PAHs produced through controlled burn experiments, the researchers were able to determine the temperature at which the PAHs were formed.

Surprisingly, the study revealed that smaller PAHs likely formed in cold outer space, while larger ones probably originated in warmer environments, such as near stars or inside celestial bodies. Understanding the isotopic composition of PAHs provides valuable insights into the conditions and environments in which these molecules were created, unraveling the history and chemistry of asteroids and meteorites.

Dr. Alex Holman, a co-author of the study, emphasized the significance of this research in shedding light on the formation of organic compounds beyond Earth. He explained that the use of advanced techniques and innovative experiments demonstrated that select PAHs on asteroids can indeed be formed in cold space. This knowledge not only expands our understanding of the formation of celestial bodies but also provides insights into the origins of organic compounds in space.

This groundbreaking study, published in the journal Science, marks a major step forward in the field of space technology. The research, titled “Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in samples of Ryugu formed in the interstellar medium,” is available for further exploration and serves as a valuable resource for scientists delving into the mysteries of our universe.

Journal Reference:

  1. Sarah Zeichner, Jose Aponte et al. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in samples of Ryugu formed in the interstellar medium. Science. DOI: 10.1126/science.adg6304

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