Macromolecular organic compounds from the depths of Enceladus

Seminar | September 11 | 4-5 p.m. | 120 Latimer Hall

 Bernd Abel, Leibniz Institute of Surface Engineering (IOM), Department Functional Surfaces Permoserstr. Wilhelm-Ostwald-Institute for Physical and Theoretical Chemistry,and Institute of Chemical Technology of the University Leipzig

 College of Chemistry

Saturn’s moon Enceladus harbors a global water ocean, which lies under an ice crust and above a rocky core. Through warm cracks in the crust a cryo-volcanic plume ejects ice grains and vapor into space that contain materials originating from the ocean. Hydrothermal activity is suspected to occur deep inside the porous core powered by tidal dissipation. So far, only simple organic compounds with molecular masses mostly below 50 atomic mass units have been observed in plume material. Recently, observations of emitted ice grains containing concentrated and complex macromolecular organic material with molecular masses much above 200 atomic mass units were reported. The data constrain the macromolecular structure of organics detected in the ice grains and suggest the presence of a thin organic-rich film on top of the oceanic water table, where organic nucleation cores generated by the bursting of bubbles allow the probing of Enceladus’ organic inventory in enhanced concentrations.
Though researchers have found organic molecules elsewhere in the solar system, the sheer size of those on Enceladus is surprising. Combined with the moon’s other intriguing characteristics — a salty liquid water ocean, geysers emanating from beneath the surface and indications of hydrothermal vents — Enceladus continues to look like the most tantalizing place in our solar system to look for extraterrestrial life.

 Light refreshments will be served at 3:50 at The Coffee Lab, 510-643-0572