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Adv Space Res. 1995 Mar;15(3):113-26.

Were micrometeorites a source of prebiotic molecules on the early Earth?

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Centre de Spectrométrie Nucléaire et de Spectrométrie de Masse, Orsay, France.


"Interplanetary Dust Particles" with sizes approximately 10 micrometers collected in the stratosphere (IDPs), as well as much larger "giant" micrometeorites retrieved from Antarctic ice melt water (AMMs), are mostly composed of unequilibrated assemblages of minerals, thus being related to primitive unequilibrated meteorites. Two independent evaluations of the mass flux of micrometeorites measuring approximately 50 micrometers to approximately 200 micrometers, recovered from either the Greenland or the Antarctic ice sheets have been reported (approximately 20,000 tons/a). A comparison with recent evaluation of the flux of meteorites reaching the Earth's surface (up to masses of 10,000 tons), indicates that micrometeorites represent about 99.5% of the extraterrestrial material falling on the Earth's surface each year. As they show carbon concentrations exceeding that of the most C-rich meteorite (Orgueil), they are the major contributors of extraterrestrial C-rich matter accreting to the Earth today. Moreover they are complex microstructured aggregates of grains. They contain not only a variety of C-rich matter, such as a new "dirty" magnetite phase enriched in P, S, and minor elements, but also a diversity of potential catalysts (hydrous silicates, oxides, sulfides and metal grains of Fe/Ni composition, etc.). They could have individually functioned on the early Earth, as "micro-chondritic-reactors" for the processing of prebiotic organic molecules in liquid water. Future progress requires the challenging development of meaningful laboratory simulation experiments, and a better understanding of the partial reprocessing of micrometeorites in the atmosphere.

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