Degradation of Adenine on the Martian Surface in the Presence of Perchlorates and Ionizing Radiation: A Reflectron Time-of-flight Mass Spectrometric Study

1,2Sándor Góbi, 1,2Alexandre Bergantini, 1,2Ralf I. Kaiser
Astrophysical Journal 838, 2 Link to Article [https://doi.org/10.3847/1538-4357/aa653f]
1Department of Chemistry, University of Hawaii at Mānoa, Honolulu, HI 96822, USA
2W.M. Keck Laboratory in Astrochemistry, University of Hawaii at Mānoa, Honolulu, HI 96822, USA

The aim of the present work is to unravel the radiolytic decomposition of adenine (C5H5N5) under conditions relevant to the Martian surface. Being the fundamental building block of (deoxy)ribonucleic acids, the possibility of survival of this biomolecule on the Martian surface is of primary importance to the astrobiology community. Here, neat adenine and adenine–magnesium perchlorate mixtures were prepared and irradiated with energetic electrons that simulate the secondary electrons originating from the interaction of the galactic cosmic rays with the Martian surface. Perchlorates were added to the samples since they are abundant—and therefore relevant oxidizers on the surface of Mars—and they have been previously shown to facilitate the radiolysis of organics such as glycine. The degradation of the samples were monitored in situ via Fourier transformation infrared spectroscopy and the electron ionization quadruple mass spectrometric method; temperature-programmed desorption profiles were then collected by means of the state-of-the-art single photon photoionization reflectron time-of-flight mass spectrometry (PI-ReTOF-MS), allowing for the detection of the species subliming from the sample. The results showed that perchlorates do increase the destruction rate of adenine by opening alternative reaction channels, including the concurrent radiolysis/oxidation of the sample. This new pathway provides a plethora of different radiolysis products that were identified for the first time. These are carbon dioxide (CO2), isocyanic acid (HNCO), isocyanate (OCN−), carbon monoxide (CO), and nitrogen monoxide (NO); an oxidation product containing carbonyl groups (R1R2–C=O) with a constrained five-membered cyclic structure could also be observed. Cyanamide (H2N–C≡N) was detected in both irradiated samples as well.

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