The temperature effect on the glycine decomposition induced by 2 keV electron bombardment in space analog conditions

Pilling, Sergio; Nair, Binu G.; Escobar, Antonio; Fraser, Helen and Mason, Nigel (2014). The temperature effect on the glycine decomposition induced by 2 keV electron bombardment in space analog conditions. The European Physical Journal D, 68(3), article no. 58.



Glycine is the simplest proteinaceous amino acid that has been extensively detected in carbonaceous meteorites and was recently observed in the cometary samples returned to Earth by NASA’s Stardust spacecraft. In space, such species is exposed to several radiation fields at different temperatures. In aqueous solutions, this species appears mainly as zwitterionic glycine (+NH3CH2COO) however, in solid phase, it may be found in amorphous or crystalline forms. Here, we present an experimental study on the destruction of two zwitterionic glycine crystals (α- and β-form) at two different temperatures (300 K and 14 K) by 2 keV electrons in an attempt to test the behavior and stability of this molecular species in different space environments. The samples were analyzed in situ by Fourier transform infrared spectrometry at electron fluences. The experiments were carried out under ultra-high vacuum conditions at the Molecular Physics Laboratory at the Open University at Milton Keynes, UK. The dissociation cross section of glycine is approximately 5 times higher for the 14 K samples when compared to the 300 K samples. In contrast, no significant differences emerged between the dissociation cross sections of α- and β-forms of glycine for fixed temperature experiments. We therefore conclude that the destruction cross section is more heavily dependent on temperature than the phase of the condensed glycine material. This may be associated with the opening of additional reaction routes in the frozen samples involving the trapped daughter species (e.g. CO2 and CO). The half-life of studied samples extrapolated to space conditions shows that glycine molecules on the surface of interstellar grains has less survivability and they are highly sensitive to ambient radiations, however, they can survive extended period of time in the solar system like environments. Survivability increases by a factor of 5 if the samples are at 300 K when compared to low temperature experiments at 14 K and is independent of the crystalline structure. In addition, this survival would increase if the molecular species were protected by several layers of other molecular species as trapped in comet mantles or embedded within regolith in asteroids/lunar surfaces. The understanding of the excitation and dissociation processes of organic compounds in space simulation is highly required to put constrains in the puzzle over the origin of life in the primitive Earth.

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