Astrobiology August 2008, 8(4): 771-779.
Solid CH3CN and solid H2O + CH3CN were ion irradiated near 10 K to initiate chemical reactions thought to occur in extraterrestrial ices. The infrared spectra of these samples after irradiation revealed the synthesis of new molecules. After the irradiated ices were warmed to remove volatiles, the resulting residual material was extracted and analyzed.
Both unhydrolyzed and acid-hydrolyzed residues were examined by both liquid and gas chromatographicmass spectral methods and found to contain a rich mixture of products. The unhydrolyzed samples showed HCN, NH3, acetaldehyde (formed by reaction with background and atmospheric H2O), alkyamines, and numerous other compounds, but no amino acids. However, reaction products in hydrolyzed residues contained a suite of amino acids that included some found in carbonaceous chondrite meteorites. Equal amounts of D- and L-enantiomers were found for each chiral amino acid detected.
Extensive use was made of 13C-labeled CH3CN to confirm amino acid identifications and discriminate against possible terrestrial contaminants. The results reported here show that ices exposed to cosmic rays can yield products that, after hydrolysis, form a set of primary amino acids equal in richness to those made by other methods, such as photochemistry.
Astrobiology 8, 771779.