Organic Matter Responses to Radiation under Lunar Conditions

Richard Matthewman, Ian Crawford, Adrian Jones, Katherine Joy, Mark Sephton

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    Abstract

    Large bodies, such as the Moon, that have remained relatively unaltered for long periods of time have the potential to preserve a record of organic chemical processes from early in the history of the Solar System. A record of volatiles and impactors may be preserved in buried lunar regolith layers that have been capped by protective lava flows. Of particular interest is the possible preservation of prebiotic organic materials delivered by ejected fragments of other bodies, including those originating from the surface of early Earth. Lava flow layers would shield the underlying regolith and any carbon-bearing materials within them from most of the effects of space weathering, but the encapsulated organic materials would still be subject to irradiation before they were buried by regolith formation and capped with lava.

    We have performed a study to simulate the effects of solar radiation on a variety of organic materials mixed with lunar and meteorite analog substrates. A fluence of ∼3 × 1013 protons cm−2 at 4–13 MeV, intended to be representative of solar energetic particles, has little detectable effect on low-molecular-weight (≤C30) hydrocarbon structures that can be used to indicate biological activity (biomarkers) or the high-molecular-weight hydrocarbon polymer poly(styrene-co-divinylbenzene), and has little apparent effect on a selection of amino acids (≤C9). Inevitably, more lengthy durations of exposure to solar energetic particles may have more deleterious effects, and rapid burial and encapsulation will always be more favorable to organic preservation. Our data indicate that biomarker compounds that may be used to infer biological activity on their parent planet can be relatively resistant to the effects of radiation and may have a high preservation potential in paleoregolith layers on the Moon.
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalAstrobiology
    Volume16
    Issue number11
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2016

    Keywords

    • Moon
    • Regolith
    • Organics
    • Meteorite

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