Detection of Cosmic Fullerenes in the Almahata Sitta Meteorite: Are They an Interstellar Heritage?

1Hassan Sabbah,1Mickaël Carlos,2Peter Jenniskens,3Muawia H. Shaddad,4Jean Duprat,5Cyrena A. Goodrich,1Christine Joblin
The Astrophysical Journal 931, 91 Open Access Link to Article [DOI 10.3847/1538-4357/ac69dd]
1IRAP, Université Toulouse III—Paul Sabatier, CNRS, CNES, F-31028 Toulouse Cedex 4, France
2SETI Institute, Mountain View, CA 94043, USA
3University of Khartoum, Khartoum 11115, Sudan
4IMPMC, CNRS-MNHN-Sorbonne Université, 57 rue Cuvier, F-75005 Paris, France
5Lunar and Planetary Institute, USRA, Houston, TX 77058, USA

Buckminsterfullerene, C60, is the largest molecule observed to date in interstellar and circumstellar environments. The mechanism of formation of this molecule is actively debated. Despite targeted searches in primitive carbonaceous chondrites, no unambiguous detection of C60 in a meteorite has been reported to date. Here we report the first firm detection of fullerenes, from C30 to at least C100, in the Almahata Sitta (AhS) polymict ureilite meteorite. This detection was achieved using highly sensitive laser desorption laser ionization mass spectrometry. Fullerenes have been unambiguously detected in seven clasts of AhS ureilites. Molecular family analysis shows that fullerenes are from a different reservoir compared to the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons detected in the same samples. The fullerene family correlates best with carbon clusters, some of which may have been formed by the destruction of solid carbon phases by the impacting laser. We show that the detected fullerenes are not formed in this way. We suggest that fullerenes are an intrinsic component of a specific carbon phase that has yet to be identified. The nondetection of fullerenes in the Murchison and Allende bulk samples, while using the same experimental conditions, suggests that this phase is absent or less abundant in these primitive chondrites. The former case would support the formation of fullerenes by shock-wave processing of carbonaceous phases in the ureilite parent body. However, there are no experimental data to support this scenario. This leaves open the possibility that fullerenes are an interstellar heritage and a messenger of interstellar processes.

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