Characterizing organic particle impacts on inert metal surfaces: Foundations for capturing organic molecules during hypervelocity transits of Enceladus plumes

1,2J. S. New,1,3R. A. Mathies,2M. C. Price,2M. J. Cole,1,3M. Golozar,2V. Spathis,2M. J. Burchell,1A. L. Butterworth
Meteoritics & Planetary Science (in Press) Link to Article []
1Space Sciences Laboratory, University of California, Berkeley, 7 Gauss Way, Berkeley, California, 94720 USA
2School of Physical Sciences, University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent, CT2 7NH UK
3Department of Chemistry, University of California, Berkeley, California, 94720 USA
Published by arrangement with John Wiley & Sons

The presence and accessibility of a sub‐ice‐surface saline ocean at Enceladus, together with geothermal activity and a rocky core, make it a compelling location to conduct further, in‐depth, astrobiological investigations to probe for organic molecules indicative of extraterrestrial life. Cryovolcanic plumes in the south polar region of Enceladus enable the use of remote in situ sampling and analysis techniques. However, efficient plume sampling and the transportation of captured organic materials to an organic analyzer present unique challenges for an Enceladus mission. A systematic study, accelerating organic ice‐particle simulants into soft inert metal targets at velocities ranging 0.5–3.0 km s−1, was carried out using a light gas gun to explore the efficacy of a plume capture instrument. Capture efficiency varied for different metal targets as a function of impact velocity and particle size. Importantly, organic chemical compounds remained chemically intact in particles captured at speeds up to ~2 km s−1. Calibration plots relating the velocity, crater, and particle diameter were established to facilitate future ice‐particle impact experiments where the size of individual ice particles is unknown.


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