Synthesis of refractory organic matter in the ionized gas phase of the solar nebula

Maïa Kuga, Bernard Marty, Yves Marrocchi, and Laurent Tissandier

PNAS2015 ; published ahead of print May 26, 2015, doi:10.1073/pnas.1502796112

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In the nascent solar system, primitive organic matter was a major contributor of volatile elements to planetary bodies, and could have played a key role in the development of the biosphere. However, the origin of primitive organics is poorly understood. Most scenarios advocate cold synthesis in the interstellar medium or in the outer solar system. Here, we report the synthesis of solid organics under ionizing conditions in a plasma setup from gas mixtures (H2(O)−CO−N2−noble gases) reminiscent of the protosolar nebula composition. Ionization of the gas phase was achieved at temperatures up to 1,000 K. Synthesized solid compounds share chemical and structural features with chondritic organics, and noble gases trapped during the experiments reproduce the elemental and isotopic fractionations observed in primitive organics. These results strongly suggest that both the formation of chondritic refractory organics and the trapping of noble gases took place simultaneously in the ionized areas of the protoplanetary disk, via photon- and/or electron-driven reactions and processing. Thus, synthesis of primitive organics might not have required a cold environment and could have occurred anywhere the disk is ionized, including in its warm regions. This scenario also supports N2 photodissociation as the cause of the large nitrogen isotopic range in the solar system.