Meteorite – A Search for Organic Compounds

Molecular Vista’s technology deconvolves the chemical composition of a meteorite at the nanoscale.

The study of the chemical composition of meteorites should answer important questions about the nature of our early solar system by allowing scientists to investigate the possibility of liquid water and complex organic compounds being a part of a meteorite’s matrix. Could meteorites be the seeds for the origin of life? Using high spatial resolution (<10 nm) imaging with PiFM in the infrared molecular fingerprint region (770 – 1885 cm-1), we investigated a meteorite sample that was expected to contain a mixture of phyllosilicates and organics. Both hyPIR (hyperspectral) analysis and fixed wavelength PiFM images seemed to show a high concentration of organic compounds (green in the combined PiFM image) and inorganic compounds (blue and red in combined PiFM image.) Point spectra were taken across one of these areas to further investigate this.

PiFM, topography and combined PiFM of a meteorite sample shows high concentration of organic compounds in a phyllosilicate-organic composite.

Image: The topography of the region where the hyPIR and PiFM images were taken (left), with the highlighted region where the spectra were taken (middle), and the combined PiFM of 1095, 1034 and 897 cm-1 with the highlighted region where the spectra were taken (right.)

40 spectra were taken 10 nm apart across a feature of a meteorite sample.

40 spectra were taken 10 nm apart across a feature. The spectra clearly show distinct peaks growing and decreasing across the feature. Spectra 2-9 show a broad peak around 1050 cm-1, probably due to phyllosilicates. Spectra 10-15 show growth in peaks at 897, 1265 and 1655 cm-1, likely due to organic compounds. There is a significant decrease in these three peaks for 15-24, perhaps suggesting a decrease in the concentration of organics in this region. Around spectrum 25, the peak at 897 cm-1 increases again, as does a new peak at 919 cm-1. These would suggest a change in the composition of the organic material. Also, there is no trace of the peak at 1265 cm-1 for spectra 25-35. Spectra 36-40 show the broad peak around 1050 cm-1 again, implying that this region is phyllosilicate, similar to the first spectra.

Sample courtesy of Dr. Pierre, Beck Associate Professor in the Solar System team at Institut de Planétologie et d’Astrophysique de Grenoble.

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