Testing materials to mitigate terrestrial organic contamination of meteorites: Implications for collection, curation, and handling of astromaterials

Libby D. Tunney, Patrick J. A. Hill, Christopher D. K. Herd, Robert W. Hilts

Version of Record online: 13 January 2023


“Organic matter in astromaterials can provide important information for understanding the chemistry of our solar system and the prebiotic conditions of the early Earth. However, once astromaterials reach the Earth’s surface, they can be readily contaminated through contact with the Earth’s surface as well as during processing and curation. Here, we investigate how typical handling and curation materials interact with meteorite specimens by documenting hydrophobic organic compound contamination in the laboratory environment and on materials that might be used for their collection and storage. We use gas chromatography–mass spectrometry analysis of soluble organic compounds in dichloromethane extracts of these materials to gain insights into what materials and methods are best for the collection and curation of astromaterials. Our results have implications for how extraterrestrial samples—especially those containing significant intrinsic organic matter—are handled and curated to preserve them in their most pristine states. Following recommendations of other researchers in the area of returned sample curation, we advocate for a thorough investigation into the materials used in handling and curation of meteorites to create a contamination baseline to inform soluble organic analyses on astromaterials and enable the discrimination of terrestrial and extraterrestrial compounds.”