Influence of hydrothermal asteroidal conditions on the molecular structure and isotopic compositions of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons

Marceau Lecasble, Sylvain Bernard, Jean-Christophe Viennet, Isis Criouet, Laurent Remusat

Available online 28 April 2023, 115603


“A variety of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are reported in carbonaceous chondrites (CCs) and in the interstellar medium (ISM). Although PAHs in CCs are not as large as those detected in the ISM, their carbon isotope composition is interpreted as pinpointing an interstellar origin. In contrast, their hydrogen isotope composition can be related to the extent of secondary processes, as is the proportion of alkylated PAHs within CCs. Here, we experimentally investigate the molecular and isotopic evolution of PAHs under simulated asteroidal hydrothermal conditions at 150 °C. Results show that PAHs are chemically stable under these conditions whatever their size, i.e. no destruction, conjugation nor alkylation occurs, even in the presence of other reactive organic molecules. Plus, PAHs retain their carbon isotope compositions even in the presence of another carbon-rich reservoir, either organic or inorganic. On the other hand, their hydrogen isotope composition is modified through exchange with water. Of note, as shown by additional experiments, the presence of smectites, abundant in CCs, impacts the relative abundances of extractable PAHs, saponite trapping more efficiently the larger PAHs. Altogether, results of the present experiments show that PAHs of CCs can be used as tracers of both pre-accretion and secondary processes.”