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Meteorit Planet Sci. 2000 May;35(3):629-38.

An abiotic origin for hydrocarbons in the Allan Hills 84001 martian meteorite through cooling of magmatic and impact-generated gases.

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Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri 63130-4899, USA.
Washington U, St Louis


Thermodynamic calculations of metastable equilibria were used to evaluate the potential for abiotic synthesis of aliphatic and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in the martian meteorite Allan Hills (ALH) 84001. The calculations show that PAHs and normal alkanes could form metastably from CO, CO2, and H2 below approximately 250-300 degrees C during rapid cooling of trapped magmatic or impact-generated gases. Depending on temperature, bulk composition, and oxidation-reduction conditions, PAHs and normal alkanes can form simultaneously or separately. Moreover, PAHs can form at lower H/C ratios, higher CO/CO2 ratios, and higher temperatures than normal alkanes. Dry conditions with H/C ratios less than approximately 0.01-0.001 together with high CO/CO2 ratios also favor the formation of unalkylated PAHs. The observed abundance of PAHs, their low alkylation, and a variable but high aromatic to aliphatic ratio in ALH 84001 all correspond to low H/C and high CO/CO2 ratios in magmatic and impact gases and can be used to deduce spatial variations of these ratios. Some hydrocarbons could have been formed from trapped magmatic gases, especially if the cooling was fast enough to prevent reequilibration. We propose that subsequent impact heating(s) in ALH 84001 could have led to dissociation of ferrous carbonates to yield fine-grain magnetite, formation of a CO-rich local gas phase, reduction of water vapor to H2, reequilibration of the trapped magmatic gases, aromatization of hydrocarbons formed previously, and overprinting of the synthesis from magmatic gases, if any. Rapid cooling and high-temperature quenching of CO-, H2-rich impact gases could have led to magnetite-catalyzed hydrocarbon synthesis.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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