Prebiotic Chemistry Within a Simple Impacting Icy Mixture

N. Goldman and I. Tamblyn, J Phys Chem A, 117, 5124 (2013).

We present results of prebiotic organic synthesis in shock compressed mixtures of simple ices from quantum molecular dynamics (MD) simulations extended to close to equilibrium time scales. Given the likelihood of an inhospitable prebiotic atmosphere on early Earth, it is possible that impact processes of comets or other icy bodies were a source of prebiotic chemical compounds on the primitive planet. We observe that moderate shock pressures and temperatures within a CO2-rich icy mixture (36 GPa and 2800 K) produce a number of nitrogen containing heterocycles, which dissociate to form functionalized aromatic hydrocarbons upon expansion and cooling to ambient conditions. In contrast, higher shock conditions (48āˆ’60 GPa, 3700āˆ’4800 K) resulted in the synthesis of long carbon-chain molecules, CH4, and formaldehyde. All shock compression simulations at these conditions have produced significant quantities of simple Cāˆ’N bonded compounds such as HCN, HNC, and HNCO upon expansion and cooling to ambient conditions. Our results elucidate a mechanism for impact synthesis of prebiotic molecules at realistic impact conditions that is independent of external constraints such as the presence of a catalyst, illuminating UV radiation, or pre-existing conditions on a planet.

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