Extraterrestrial amino acids in the Almahata Sitta meteorite


Corresponding author. E-mail: daniel.p.glavin@nasa.gov


Amino acid analysis of a meteorite fragment of asteroid 2008 TC3 called Almahata Sitta was carried out using reverse-phase liquid chromatography coupled with UV fluorescence detection and time-of-flight mass spectrometry (LC-FD/ToF-MS) as part of a sample analysis consortium. LC-FD/ToF-MS analyses of hot-water extracts from the meteorite revealed a complex distribution of two- to seven-carbon aliphatic amino acids and one- to three-carbon amines with abundances ranging from 0.5 to 149 parts-per-billion (ppb). The enantiomeric ratios of the amino acids alanine, β-amino-n-butyric acid, 2-amino-2-methylbutanoic acid (isovaline), and 2-aminopentanoic acid (norvaline) in the meteorite were racemic (d/l ∼ 1), indicating that these amino acids are indigenous to the meteorite and not terrestrial contaminants. Several other nonprotein amino acids were also identified in the meteorite above background levels including α-aminoisobutyric acid (α-AIB), 4-amino-2-methylbutanoic acid, 4-amino-3-methylbutanoic acid, and 3-, 4-, and 5-aminopentanoic acid. The total abundances of isovaline and α-AIB in Almahata Sitta are approximately 1000 times lower than the abundances of these amino acids found in the CM carbonaceous chondrite Murchison. The extremely low abundances and unusual distribution of five-carbon amino acids in Almahata Sitta compared to CI, CM, and CR carbonaceous chondrites may reflect extensive thermal alteration of amino acids on the parent asteroid by partial melting during formation or subsequent impact shock heating. It is also possible that amino acids were synthesized by catalytic reactions on the parent body after asteroid 2008 TC3 cooled to lower temperatures, or introduced as a contaminant from unrelated meteorite clasts and chemically altered by α-decarboxylation.