Organic compounds in asteroids formed in colder regions of space

Organic Compounds in Asteroids: Insights from Cold Space

By Staff Writers | Perth, Australia (SPX) Dec 22, 2023

Recent analysis of organic compounds extracted from the Ryugu asteroid and Murchison meteorite has challenged previous assumptions about their formation. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), commonly found on Earth as well as in celestial bodies like asteroids and meteorites, were believed to originate in hot regions near stars. However, new research indicates that certain PAHs likely formed in the cold areas of space between stars. These findings not only expand our understanding of the chemistry of objects in space but also offer new possibilities for the study of extraterrestrial life.

Space Exploration
Image: Artist’s impression of the Ryugu asteroid

Scientists from Curtin University’s WA-Organic and Isotope Geochemistry Centre (WA-OIGC) collaborated with an international research team to conduct controlled burnings of Australian plants, producing PAHs for comparison. By analyzing the isotopic composition of PAHs from Ryugu and the Murchison meteorite, researchers were able to determine the temperature at which these compounds were formed.

The study revealed that smaller PAHs were likely formed in the cold outer space, while larger ones probably originated in warmer environments, such as near a star or inside a celestial body. Dr. Alex Holman, co-author of the study, emphasized the significance of understanding the conditions and environments in which these organic compounds are created, as it provides insights into the history and chemistry of asteroids and meteorites.

“The use of advanced techniques and innovative experiments has demonstrated that select PAHs found on asteroids can indeed be formed in cold space,” stated Dr. Holman.

Further research in this field, as outlined in the published research report, will facilitate a deeper understanding of the interstellar medium’s role in the formation of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

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