2006 Annual Science Report

University of Hawaii, Manoa Reporting  |  JUL 2005 – JUN 2006

Formation of Astrobiologically Important Molecules in Water-Rich Environments

Project Summary

We installed a new FTIR spectrometer to our experimental apparatus (Fig. 1). The new spectrometer is in perfect condition, allowing us to take spectra of ices at near-IR and middle-IR regions, which are comparable to astronomy observations. We also designed some new parts to improve the experimental apparatus. For example, a new OFHC copper coldhead shield (Fig. 2) was made and installed into the machine. That reduces the mass spectral background significantly. Recently, we are assembling a proton source to simulate the effects of solar wind on low temperature ices

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Project Progress

We installed a new FTIR spectrometer to our experimental apparatus (Fig. 1). The new spectrometer is in perfect condition, allowing us to take spectra of ices at near-IR and middle-IR regions, which are comparable to astronomy observations. We also designed some new parts to improve the experimental apparatus. For example, a new OFHC copper coldhead shield (Fig. 2) was made and installed into the machine. That reduces the mass spectral background significantly. Recently, we are assembling a proton source to simulate the effects of solar wind on low temperature ices.

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We studied 5keV electron irradiation of D2O ice at 12K (Fig. 3). The experimental results indicate that the production rates of D2, O2 and D2O2 in amorphous ice are higher than those in crystalline ice. That might help us to understand the chemical processes in cold molecular cloud dust grains and Oort cloud objects. We also conducted experiments to study the amorphization of cubic crystalline water ice, which is important for understanding the history of Kuiper Belt Objects.

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In the experiments of water-free ices, we investigated the formation of ozone in interstellar and cometary ice analogs by electron irradiation of solid oxygen. Pure methane ices (CH4) were irradiated at 10 K with energetic electrons to mimic the energy transfer processes that occur in the track of the trajectories of MeV cosmic ray particles (Fig. 4). Electron irradiation of carbon monoxide ice shows that a series of new carbon-chain (C3, C6) and carbon oxide species were produced including the linear isomers of C2O, C3O, C4O, C5O, C6/7O, CO2, C3O2, C4O2, and C5O2 (Fig. 5). Those species might be able to form organic molecules when hydrogen is available. We detected the formation of Cs symmetric nitroformyl radical, OCNO(X 2A”), in the study of N2/CO2 ice mixtures (Fig. 6).

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The experimental work has already been extended to the ice mixtures of water and other molecules, such as O2, N2, C2H4, CO2, CO, etc. Most of the experiments are finished. We hope those ice mixtures can give us some information about formation of organic molecules in water-rich environments in space.

  • PROJECT INVESTIGATORS:
    Ralf Kaiser
    Project Investigator
  • PROJECT MEMBERS:
    David Jewitt
    Co-Investigator

    Weijun Zheng
    Postdoc

    Corey Jamieson
    Doctoral Student

    Chris Bennett
    Graduate Student

  • RELATED OBJECTIVES:
    Objective 3.1
    Sources of prebiotic materials and catalysts

    Objective 3.2
    Origins and evolution of functional biomolecules