Title

Extraterrestrial organic matter: A review

Publication Date

1998

Journal or Book Title

ORIGINS OF LIFE AND EVOLUTION OF BIOSPHERES

Abstract

We review the nature of the widespread organic material present in the Milky Way Galaxy and in the Solar System. Attention is given to the links between these environments and between primitive Solar System objects and the early Earth, indicating the preservation of organic material as an interstellar cloud collapsed to form the Solar System and as the Earth accreted such material from asteroids, comets and interplanetary dust particles. In the interstellar medium of the Milky Way Galaxy more than 100 molecular species, the bulk of them organic, have been securely identified, primarily through spectroscopy at the highest radio frequencies. There is considerable evidence for significantly heavier organic molecules, particularly polycyclic aromatics, although precise identification of individual species has not yet been obtained. The so-called diffuse interstellar bands are probably important in this context. The low temperature kinetics in interstellar clouds leads to very large isotopic fractionation, particularly for hydrogen, and this signature is present in organic components preserved in carbonaceous chondritic meteorites. Outer belt asteroids are the probable parent bodies of the carbonaceous chondrites, which may contain as much as 5% organic material, including a rich variety of amino acids, purines, pyrimidines, and other species of potential prebiotic interest. Richer in volatiles and hence less thermally processed are the comets, whose organic matter is abundant and poorly characterized. Cometary volatiles, observed after sublimation into the coma, include many species also present in the interstellar medium. There is evidence that most of the Earth's volatiles may have been supplied by a late bombardment of comets and carbonaceous meteorites, scattered into the inner Solar System following the formation of the giant planets. How much in the way of intact organic molecules of potential prebiotic interest survived delivery to the Earth has become an increasingly debated topic over the last several years. The principal source for such intact organics was probably accretion of interplanetary dust particles of cometary origin.

Comments

The published version is located at http://www.springerlink.com/content/k6484j30u8x323k2/

Volume

28

Pages

365-383

Issue

4-6

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