Bertrand, M., Chabin, A., Brack, A., Cottin, H., Chaput, D. and Westall, F.
Astrobiology 12 (5) 426-435
publié le , mis à jour le
To understand the chemical behavior of organic molecules in the space environment, amino acids and a dipeptide in pure form and embedded in meteorite powder were exposed in the PROCESS experiment in the EXPOSE-E facility mounted on the European Technology Exposure Facility (EuTEF) platform on board the International Space Station (ISS). After exposure to space conditions for 18 months, the samples were returned to Earth and analyzed in the laboratory for reactions caused by solar UV and cosmic radiation. Chemical degradation and possible racemization and oligomerization, the main reactions caused by photochemistry in the vacuum ultraviolet domain (VUV, wavelength range 100–200 nm for photon energy from 6.2 to 12.4 eV) were examined in particular. The molecules were extracted and derivatized by silylation and analyzed by gas chromatograph coupled to a mass spectrometer (GC-MS) to quantify the rate of the degradation of the compounds. Laboratory exposure in several wavelength ranges from UV to VUV was carried out in parallel in the Cologne Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR) Center and Centre de biophysique moléculaire (CBM) laboratories. The results show that resistance to irradiation is a function of the chemical nature of the exposed molecules and the wavelengths of the UV light. The most altered compounds were the dipeptide, aspartic acid, and aminobutyric acid. The most resistant were alanine, valine, glycine, and aminoisobutyric acid. Our results also demonstrate the protective effect of meteorite powder, which reemphasizes the importance of exogenic contribution to the inventory of prebiotic organics on early Earth.