Extraterrestrial hexamethylenetetramine in meteorites—a precursor of prebiotic chemistry in the inner solar system

2020-12-07

Abstract

Despite extensive studies on the formation of organic molecules in various extraterrestrial environments, it still remains under debate when, where, and how such molecules were abiotically formed. A key molecule to solve the problem, hexamethylenetetramine (HMT) has not been confirmed in extraterrestrial materials despite extensive laboratory experimental evidence that it can be produced in interstellar or cometary environments. Here we report the first detection of HMT and functionalized HMT species in the carbonaceous chondrites Murchison, Murray, and Tagish Lake. While the part-per-billion level concentration of HMT in Murchison and Tagish Lake is comparable to other related soluble organic molecules like amino acids, these compounds may have eluded detection in previous studies due to the loss of HMT during the extraction processes. HMT, which can yield important molecules for prebiotic chemistry such as formaldehyde and ammonia upon degradation, is a likely precursor of meteoritic organic compounds of astrochemical and astrophysical interest.

nature.com, 7 December 2020
; https://www.nature.com