Peculiarities in the formation of complex organic compounds in a nitrogen–methane atmosphere during hypervelocity impacts

M. A. Zaitsev , M. V. Gerasimov, E. N. Safonova, A. S. Vasiljeva

Solar System Research
March 2016, Volume 50, Issue 2, pp 113-129
First online: 12 April 2016


“Results of the experiments on model impact vaporization of peridotite, a mineral analogue of stony asteroids, in a nitrogen–methane atmosphere are presented. Nd-glass laser (γ = 1.06 µm) was used for simulation. Pulse energy was ~600–700 J, pulse duration ~10–3 s, vaporization tempereature ~4000–5000 K. The gaseous medium (96% vol. of N2 and 4% vol. of CH4, P = 1 atm) was a possible analogue of early atmospheres of terrestrial planets and corresponded to the present-day atmosphere composition of Titan, a satellite of Saturn. By means of pyrolytic gas chromatography/mass spectrometry, it is shown that solid condensates obtained in laser experiments contain relatively complex lowand high-molecular weight (kerogen-like) organic compounds. The main products of condensate pyrolysis were benzene and alkyl benzenes (including long-chain ones), unbranched aliphatic hydrocarbons, and various nitrogen-containing compounds (aliphatic and aromatic nitriles and pyrrol). It is shown that the nitrogen–methane atmosphere favors the formation of complex organic compounds upon hypervelocity impacts with the participation of stony bodies even with a small methane content in it. In this process, falling bodies may not contain carbon, hydrogen, and other chemical elements necessary for the formation of the organic matter. In such conditions, a noticeable contribution to the impact-induced synthesis of complex organic substances is probably made by heterogeneous catalytic reactions, in particular, Fischer–Tropsch type reactions.”