Reactivity and Survivability of Glycolaldehyde in Simulated Meteorite Impact Experiments

V.P. McCaffrey, N.E.B. Zellner, C.M. Waun, E.R. Bennett, E.K. Earl

Origins of Life and Evolution of Biospheres
February 2014, Volume 44, Issue 1, pp 29-42

PDF (full text)

Sugars of extraterrestrial origin have been observed in the interstellar medium (ISM), in at least one comet spectrum, and in several carbonaceous chondritic meteorites that have been recovered from the surface of the Earth. The origins of these sugars within the meteorites have been debated. To explore the possibility that sugars could be generated during shock events, this paper reports on the results of the first laboratory impact experiments wherein glycolaldehyde, found in the ISM, as well as glycolaldehyde mixed with montmorillonite clay, have been subjected to reverberated shocks from ~5 to >25 GPa. New biologically relevant molecules, including threose, erythrose and ethylene glycol, were identified in the resulting samples. These results show that sugar molecules can not only survive but also become more complex during impact delivery to planetary bodies.