Molecules from outer space studied under an atomic force microscope for the first time

22. februar 2022 kl. 16:15
Molecules from outer space studied under an atomic force microscope for the first time
Two of the organic molecules found in the Murchison meteorite: propylnaphthalene (left) and pyrene (right). Illustration: IBM.
Researchers at IBM Research have studied molecules from a well-known Australian meteorite with an atomic force microscope (AFM).
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The 100 kg Murchison meteorite, which fell in Australia in 1969, is one of the most famous meteorites in the world.

This is partly due to its size and the fact that it contains material which was formed more 2.5 billion years before the Solar System. But it is also interesting because it contains many different organic molecules.

Researchers from IBM Research in Zurich, Switzerland, have now, together with colleagues from research institutions in several countries, studied some of the organic molecules from the meteorite with an atomic force microscope (AFM) and described their study in a scientific article published in Meteoritics and Planetary Science.

This is the first time molecules of extraterrestrial origin have been studied in this way, Leo Gross and Katharina Kaiser from IBM Research highlight in a longer blog post.

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Researchers have found and studied a wide range of molecules, such as propylnaphthalene (C13H14) and pyrene (C16H10), which are shown in the picture at the top of this article.

It is not the first time that such molecules have been studied with AFM, but the interesting part is that scientists have now shown that they can find and study individual molecules in meteorites, which requires a very high sensitivity.

In their blog post, Gross and Kaiser write that they have provided a proof of concept that can make it possible to identify and study very rare molecules in other meteorites, including presumably also organic molecules that have never been found in meteorites before.

This could help provide a better understanding of the origin of the Solar System and life on Earth, they emphasize.

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IBM has created this 4-minute video, in which the researchers talk about their experiments and results.

Remote video URL

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