A photo of the nucleus of comet Wild-2 observed by the STARDUST spacecraft Jan. 2, 2004 (image courtesty of NASA-JPL). Inset (lower right) is a secondary image (green/blue) of an interplanetary dust particle (IDP) with a 15 nitrogen-enriched and 13 carbon-depleted (red/yellow) "hotspot" containing similar atomic interstellar molecules.The adenine molecule (N5C5H5) is one possible carrier of the 13 carbon and 15 nitrogen anomalies. Cometary IDPs were likely a major source of organic matter accreted by the prebiotic earth.
Scientists from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Washington University have seen carbon and nitrogen anomalies on a particle of interplanetary dust that provides a clue as to how interstellar organic matter was incorporated into the solar system.
Interplanetary dust particles (IDPs) gathered from the Earth’s stratosphere are complex collections of primitive solar system material and carry various isotopic anomalies. Using an ion microprobe that allows isotopic imaging at a scale of 100 nanometers, the astrophysicists conducted simultaneous carbon and nitrogen isotopic imaging measurements of the IDP, nicknamed Benavente. They noticed that the isotope carbon 13 decreased while nitrogen 15 increased in Benavente.
The results appear in the Feb. 27 issue of the journal Science.
Anne Stark | LLNL
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