DPS Meeting, Madison, October 1998
Session 7P. Asteroid Observations II
Contributed Poster Session, Tuesday, October 13, 1998, 4:15-5:20pm, Hall of Ideas

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[7P.15] Response of Organic Materials to Hypervelocity Impacts (up to 11.2 km/sec)

D. S. Bass, W. M. Murphy, G. P. Miller, D. J. Grosch, J. D. Walker, A. Mullin, J. H. Waite (Southwest Research Institute)

It is speculated that organic-rich planetesimals played a role in the origin of life on Earth. However, the mechanism by which organics could have been delivered from space to a planetary surface is difficult to determine. Particularly problematic is the question of the stability of organic material under hypervelocity impact conditions. Although some evidence suggests organic molecules cannot survive impacts from projectile velocities greater than about 10 km/sec [1], other investigators have found that impacts create a favorable environment for post-shock recombination of organic molecules in the plume phase [2, 3]. Understanding the mechanisms involved in delivering organics to a planetary surface remains difficult to assess due to the lack of experimental results of hypervelocity impacts, particularly in the velocity range of tens of km/sec. Organic material preservation and destruction from impact shocks, the synthesis of organics in the post-impact plume environment, and implications of these processes for Earth and Mars can be investigated by launching an inorganic projectile into an analog planetesimal-and-bolide organic-rich target.

We explored the pressure and temperature ranges of hypervelocity impacts (11.2 km/sec) through simulations with CTH impact physics computer code. Using an inhibited shaped-charge launcher, we also experimentally determined the response of organic material to hypervelocity impacts. Initial work focused on saturating well-characterized zeolitic tuff with an aqueous solution containing dissolved naphthalene, a common polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH). Porosity measurements, thin section, and x-ray diffraction analyses were performed to determine that the tuff is primarily fine-grained clinoptilolite. In order to distinguish between contaminants and compounds generated or destroyed in the impact, we tagged the aqueous component of our target with deuterium. Experimental tests revealed that to first order, naphthalene survived the shock wave of an impact velocity of 11.2 km/sec.

1. Chyba et al., 1990; 2. Chameides and Walker, 1981; 3. Bar-Nun, 1971

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