Polymers in meteorites provide clues to early solar system

Meteorites are tiny pieces of asteroids that do not have to experience high temperatures during their existence. These meteorites are a record of complex chemistry that existed before the formation of our solar system 4.57 billion years earlier.Meteorites are rich in amino acids, many of which aren't found in modern organisms.Researchers from Harvard University have published Physics of Fluids by AIP Publishing. They show that there is a systematic group of amino-acid polymers in several meteorite types, including the CV3 type. The polymers create organized structures such as crystalline nanotubes, and a space-filling diamond symmetry lattice with a density that is 30 times lower than water.Julie McGeoch, author, said that "Because the elements needed to make our polymers existed as early as 12.5billion years ago and there seems to have been a gas phase route to them formation, it's possible that this chemistry has been and is present throughout all of the universe."Researchers placed the prevention of terrestrial contamination as a top priority. The researchers devised a clean-room method that used a stepper motor and vacuum-brazed bits to drill several millimeters into meteorite samples before removing the newly etched material. Multiple drill bits were used in one etch. All of them were cleaned using ultrasonification.The micron-sized meteorite particles were then placed into tubes and kept at minus 16° Celsius. Folch extraction is a method that allows polymers to diffuse from micron-sized meteorite particles using two chemical phases. These are different solvents and densities.Mass spectrometry confirmed the existence of polymers. They were made up of chains of glycine (the simplest amino acid with added oxygen and iron). Their high deuterium to-hydrogen ratio confirmed their extraterrestrial origin.This research was inspired in part by observations of a conserved biological protein that trapped water. This finding suggests that a similar molecule could form in gas space and provide bulk water for early chemistry.Quantum chemistry was used by the researchers to demonstrate that amino acids can polymerize in space within molecular cloud, while retaining water. Numerous experiments were conducted using meteorites as a source of polymer, resulting in 3D structures.The researchers plan to continue X-ray analysis in order to obtain more information about the glycine rods. The energetics of polymerization could be revealed by other polymers from the same class.