During a pitch-dark night, you can see streaks of rocks shooting across the sky in space. The ones that crash here on Earth are called Meteorites.
Scientists analyzed two meteorites for organic material and identified thousands of molecular puzzle pieces, including identifying a large number of oxygen atoms than they had expected to identify.
The researchers presented their findings at the spring meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS). It is a meeting that is being held between 26-30 march that is both virtually attended and in person. This meeting features around 10,000 presentations on a broad spectrum of fields in Science.
Before, a team led by Alan Marshall, Ph.D. had researched complex organic materials found here on earth that also included Petroleum. But they redirected their attention towards space i.e things that crash here on Earth from space. Their complex and advanced Ultra-high resolution mass spectrometry technique is opening windows helping us understand the universe and the origin of life.
Frye-Jones a graduate student from Florida State University who is presenting the team’s work at the ACS spring meeting said that their analysis will give us an idea of what is out in space and what we are going to run into as a space-faring species. Both Alan Marshal and Frye-Jones work at Florida state university and the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory.
Several Meteorites fall to the earth from space. Two of them namely the Murchison meteorite which fell in Australia in 1969 and has been analyzed a lot since, and the Aguas Zarcas Meteorite which fell in Costa Rica in 2019. These Meteorites are a type of space rock called “Carbonaceous chondrites” which contain the most Organic material. By analyzing such rocks we can gain information on what they are made up of and where they were formed and what they ran into in space as they made their way to earth.
For the analysis, the researchers used the Mass Spectrometer, which takes apart the sample and identifies the mass of each molecule in the sample via a peak. This enables researchers to identify the molecules in the sample.
But, MS takes them only so far as to identify the compounds in the sample, this is where Fourier Transform Ion Cyclotron Resonance (FT-ICR ) MS. This instrument helps scientists gain knowledge on very complex mixtures with greater accuracy. Frye-Jones said that this instrument helps them look at everything in many different kinds of samples with great resolution.
Using this instrument the team analyzed the Murchison and Aguas Zarcas Meteorites. Rather than looking at specific molecules such as amino acids, they made an observation of all soluble organic material at the same time. This gave them over 30,000 peaks for each meteorite to analyze and yielded over 60% of unique molecular formulas.
This was the best resolution MS ever made on the Murchison Meteorite and the first analysis of this type made on the Aguas Zarcas Meteorite. They reported around twice the molecular formulas identified on the Murchison Meteorite.
To their surprise, after they sorted through the data and made different groups as to whether they contained oxygen and Sulphur etc, they found out that the meteorites had a large amount of oxygen content among the compounds identified. Marshall said that you wouldn’t think oxygen-containing molecules or organics to be such a big part of Meteorites.
The teams will next turn their attention to two very precious samples i.e few grams of lunar dust collected during the Apollo 12 and 14 missions that launched in 1969 and 1971. The samples from these missions predate the FR-ICR MS instrument that gives us such a high resolution of the samples. The team will compare the data from the meteorite and the data which will be obtained from the analysis of the lunar samples and understand the moon’s surface and where it came from. Was it from solar radiation? was it from meteorites? This study will soon shed some light on it Marshall says.
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