Frozen surfaces of small bodies in the outer Solar System are exposed to cosmic and solar energetic ions. Thanks to laboratory experiments, scientists from the “Astrochemistry and Origins” team at IAS and the Florida Space Institute (USA) estimated the alterations induced by ion irradiation on the methanol-rich surfaces of such objects.
Although there are evidences of relationships between the most primitive bodies of the solar system and differentiated planetary bodies with a metallic core, no sample has been found up to now that bears information on the onset of planetary differentiation. Researchers have recently described a volcanic rock produced by extremely limited partial melting of a parent body chemically similar to the most primitive meteorites (carbonaceous chondrites) and crystallized upon ascent toward the surface of the body. This sample proves that some carbonaceous bodies from the outer solar system are partially differentiated and is the missing link in a continuum between comets and iron meteorites from metallic planetary cores.
A multidisciplinary team involving researchers from the IAS, CSNSM and SOLEIL SMIS/beam line, has characterized in the laboratory the organic component from exceptional organic-rich interplanetary dust particles, i.e. Ultra-Carbonaceous MicroMeteorites (UCAMMs).
An international scientific team including two co-Investigators from the IAS has determined the elemental composition of the dust of 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, the comet explored by the European space probe Rosetta. Their results reveal some of the most carbon-rich materials and the least altered ever explored. This cometary carbon is essentially in a macromolecular organic structure, meaning that it is mainly in that form that it was delivered by comets to the primitive Earth.
The MICMOC experiment that started in 2003 at IAS and whose goal is to understand the link between astrochemistry and astrobiology, just came across through a major and surprising result: the prebiotic formation of the sugar molecule ribose, a key molecule toward the formation of RNA, the nucleic acid containing the first genetic material of living beings.