Establishing a molecular relationship between chondritic and cometary organic solids
George D. Cody, Emily Heying, Conel M. O. Alexander, Larry R. Nittler, A. L. David Kilcoyne, Scott A. Sandford and Rhonda M. Stroud
PNAS 2011 108 (48) 19171-19176; published ahead of print April 4, 2011, doi:10.1073/pnas.1015913108
Multidimensional solid-state NMR spectroscopy is used to refine the identification and abundance determination of functional groups in insoluble organic matter (IOM) isolated from a carbonaceous chondrite (Murchison, CM2). It is shown that IOM is composed primarily of highly substituted single ring aromatics, substituted furan/pyran moieties, highly branched oxygenated aliphatics, and carbonyl groups. A pathway for producing an IOM-like molecular structure through formaldehyde polymerization is proposed and tested experimentally. Solid-state 13C NMR analysis of aqueously altered formaldehyde polymer reveals considerable similarity with chondritic IOM. Carbon X-ray absorption near edge structure spectroscopy of formaldehyde polymer reveals the presence of similar functional groups across certain Comet 81P/Wild 2 organic solids, interplanetary dust particles, and primitive IOM. Variation in functional group concentration amongst these extraterrestrial materials is understood to be a result of various degrees of processing in the parent bodies, in space, during atmospheric entry, etc. These results support the hypothesis that chondritic IOM and cometary refractory organic solids are related chemically and likely were derived from formaldehyde polymer. The fine-scale morphology of formaldehyde polymer produced in the experiment reveals abundant nanospherules that are similar in size and shape to organic nanoglobules that are ubiquitous in primitive chondrites.