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Exoplanet Exploration

Self-Assembly of Prebiotic Organic Materials from Impact Events on Early Earth

Completed Technology Project

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Self-Assembly of Prebiotic Organic Materials from Impact Events on Early Earth
This proposal is focused on understanding the effects of extreme pressures and temperatures resulting from impacting comets and other icy extraterrestrial bodies on the synthesis of peptides, sugars, and nucleobases. We will conduct quantum simulations of the entire impact event (shock compression, followed by expansion and cooling) to near chemical equilibrium time-scales experiments in order to determine its effect on the self-assembly of simple precursors into more complex biomaterials. Specifically, our investigation will encompass shock synthesis of: (1) HCN polymers, to determine their role in the formation of components of RNA, as well as polypeptide structures, and (2) peptide chains from amino acid mixtures, to determine the effect of delivery of extraterrestrial amino acids to early Earth. These data are necessary in order to create a fundamental picture of the production of primary biomaterials from exogenous icy materials that likely bombarded early Earth. Here, we will leverage our existing expertise with quantum simulation methods and the pre-existing computational facilities available at LLNL. This will give us the unique opportunity to answer long standing questions in exobiology regarding the synthesis of complex, self-assembled biomolecules from impact of an extraterrestrial ice on any given planet or satellite. This proposal is a direct continuation to work previously funded through the NASA Astrobiology program (proposal # 09-EXOB09-0119, funding ending February 2014). Our research plan supports the NASA Exobiology ROSES 2014 announcement by providing a unique set of theoretical studies to address the listed areas of research in Prebiotic Evolution. Our study addresses many of the objectives of Goals #1-4 in the NASA Astrobiology Roadmap. More »

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