2019 Volume 53 Issue 1 Pages 21-32
The organic matter in carbonaceous chondrites is of two kinds: one is called Insoluble Organic Matter, made of extremely large molecules that cannot be named with the usual nomenclature; one can be extracted by laboratory solvents and analyzed as a molecular mixture. Both are of debated origin. Retracing their natural histories requires putting strong constraints on their possible place of birth and their life time in space environments. It cannot be excluded they were formed in an interstellar medium before accretion on the chondritic parent bodies. As ultraviolet rays are the most common in the star forming regions and during the accretion phase of solar system, we propose to test the resilience of the natural organic matter of the Murchison meteorite against photolysis. The meteoritical soluble molecules were extracted by maceration and artificially exposed to a Lα photon dose commensurate to the one expected in molecular clouds and disks. The gaseous photolysis products were analyzed on the fly whereas the solid state mixture was solubilized again after irradiation for Orbitrap High Resolution Mass Spectrometry monitoring. We found that ultraviolet photons do modify the molecular mixture, removing H2 and small carbon bearing species, shifting the mass distribution toward lower masses and increasing the number of cycles and double bonds in the molecules structure. A noteworthy effect of the irradiation is its selective preservation of species with a double bond equivalent consistent with aromatic rings in their structure. This is explained by the higher stability of such compounds. As the pristine Murchison extract lacks those features, we estimate it has not undergone significant irradiation after its synthesis. The extract we used for experiment being water insoluble, we assume its reactivity in hydrothermal condition would have been limited and have had no effect on the irradiation fingerprints. As a result the soluble fraction of Murchison was whether formed where the UV photon flux was negligible or it has been accreted quickly and shielded from photolysis in a parent body.