Insoluble macromolecular organic matter in the Winchcombe meteorite

Sephton, Mark A.; Chan, Queenie H. S.; Watson, Jonathan S.; Burchell, Mark J.; Spathis, Vassilia; Grady, Monica M.; Verchovsky, Alexander B.; Abernethy, Feargus A. J. and Franchi, Ian A. (2024). Insoluble macromolecular organic matter in the Winchcombe meteorite. Meteoritics & Planetary Science, 59(5) pp. 1131–1144.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/maps.13952

Abstract

The Winchcombe meteorite fell on February 28, 2021 in Gloucestershire, United Kingdom. As the most accurately recorded carbonaceous chondrite fall, the Winchcombe meteorite represents an opportunity to link a tangible sample of known chemical constitution to a specific region of the solar system whose chemistry can only be otherwise predicted or observed remotely. Winchcombe is a CM carbonaceous chondrite, a group known for their rich and varied abiotic organic chemistry. The rapid collection of Winchcombe provides an opportunity to study a relatively terrestrial contaminant‐limited meteoritic organic assemblage. The majority of the organic matter in CM chondrites is macromolecular in nature and we have performed nondestructive and destructive analyses of Winchcombe by Raman spectroscopy, online pyrolysis–gas chromatography–mass spectrometry (pyrolysis–GC–MS), and stepped combustion. The Winchcombe pyrolysis products were consistent with a CM chondrite, namely aromatic and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, sulfur‐containing units including thiophenes, oxygen‐containing units such as phenols and furans, and nitrogen‐containing units such as pyridine; many substituted/alkylated forms of these units were also present. The presence of phenols in the online pyrolysis products indicated only limited influence from aqueous alteration, which can deplete the phenol precursors in the macromolecule when aqueous alteration is extensive. Raman spectroscopy and stepped combustion also generated responses consistent with a CM chondrite. The pyrolysis–GC–MS data are likely to reflect the more labile and thermally sensitive portions of the macromolecular materials while the Raman and stepped combustion data will also reflect the more refractory and nonpyrolyzable component; hence, we accessed the complete macromolecular fraction of the recently fallen Winchcombe meteorite and revealed a chemical constitution that is similar to other meteorites of the CM group.

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