Reactive ammonia in the solar protoplanetary disk and the origin of Earths nitrogen

Journal name:
Nature Geoscience
Volume:
8,
Pages:
97–101
Year published:
DOI:
doi:10.1038/ngeo2339
Received
Accepted
Published online

Terrestrial nitrogen isotopic compositions are distinct from solar and cometary values and similar to those of primitive meteorites, suggesting that Earths atmospheric nitrogen originates from a primordial cosmochemical source1, 2. Prebiotic organic compounds containing nitrogen that formed in the solar protoplanetary disk, such as amino acids, may have contributed to the emergence of life on Earth3, 4. However, the original reservoirs of these volatile compounds and the processes involved in their distribution and chemical modification before accretion remain unclear. Here we report the occurrence of the mineral carlsbergite (chromium nitride) within nanocrystalline sulphide inclusions of primitive chondritic meteorites using transmission electron microscopy and secondary ion mass spectrometry. The characteristics and occurrence of carlsbergite are consistent with precipitation from a chromium-bearing metal in the presence of reactive ammonia. The carlsbergite crystals have nitrogen isotopic compositions that differ from ammonia in cometary ices, but are similar to Earths atmospheric nitrogen. We suggest that the reactive ammonia proposed to have initiated formation of the carlsbergite came from ices within regions of the protoplanetary disk that were affected by the distal wakes of shock waves. Our findings imply that these primordial ammonia-bearing ices were a nitrogen reservoir within the formation region of the chondritic meteorite parent bodies and could have been a source of volatiles for the early Earth.

At a glance

Figures

  1. Mineralogy of PCS grain 98F03 from Y-791198.
    Figure 1: Mineralogy of PCS grain 98F03 from Y-791198.

    a, Backscattered electron image of the PCS grain before FIB sectioning. b, SAED pattern (~12 μm2 area) of the FIB sample showing the main lattice spacings of nanocrystalline pentlandite (n-Pn) as two broad rings accompanied by ring segments of carlsbergite (CrN) reflections, which indicate a non-random crystal orientation. c, Bright-field TEM image of the FIB sample showing carlsbergite platelets embedded in n-Pn. d, High-resolution image of a single carlsbergite platelet showing the dominant {100} face with measured lattice spacings (95% confidence of the mean, n = 4).

  2. Localization of nitrogen by NanoSIMS.
    Figure 2: Localization of nitrogen by NanoSIMS.

    a, Secondary electron SEM image of the surface after NanoSIMS analysis. The nanocrystalline pentlandite (n-Pn) has been sputtered preferentially and exposed internal grains. b, The same image overlaid with the distribution of 12C14N secondary ions obtained by NanoSIMS. Exposed carlsbergite grains correlate with local maxima (blue–violet) of the ion intensity. Grains not associated with intensity maxima are probably schreibersite. Organic material is present in the periphery.

  3. Kinetic evolution of the nitriding potential in gas mixtures between solar gas and an ice-derived gas with Hale-Bopp-like species composition.
    Figure 3: Kinetic evolution of the nitriding potential in gas mixtures between solar gas and an ice-derived gas with Hale–Bopp-like species composition.

    Shown are mixtures with 99 mol% (circles) and 90 mol% (squares) contributions of ice at 750 K/10 Pa total pressure (red), 750 K/1,000 Pa (green), 1,260 K/10 Pa (blue) and 1,260 K/1,000 Pa (orange). Coloured dashed lines indicate the corresponding equilibrium values. In a homogeneous gas the nitriding potential remains metastably above 3 × 10−4 Pa−1/2 at least for days. At this value rapid CrN formation has been demonstrated21.

  4. Gas mixing at 750 K between solar gas (diamonds) and an ice-derived gas of Hale-Bopp-like elemental composition (circles).
    Figure 4: Gas mixing at 750 K between solar gas (diamonds) and an ice-derived gas of Hale–Bopp-like elemental composition (circles).

    Elemental C/O = 0.29 (red) and C/O = 0.16 (blue, orange). Mixing trajectories at 10 Pa (solid lines) and 103 Pa (dashed lines) total pressure are calculated for full equilibration (blue, immediate reaction of NH3) and suppressed N2 (orange, maximum retention of NH3). The ratios of H2O/H2 and H2S/H2 trend towards the phase boundary of Fe-deficient pyrrhotite and magnetite for contributions of more than 90 mol% ice (squares).

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Affiliations

  1. Institut für Geowissenschaften, Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena, Carl-Zeiss-Promenade 10, 07745 Jena, Germany

    • Dennis Harries &
    • Falko Langenhorst
  2. Bayerisches Geoinstitut, Universität Bayreuth, Universitätsstraße 30, 95447 Bayreuth, Germany

    • Dennis Harries
  3. Max-Planck-Institut für Chemie, Hahn-Meitner-Weg 1, 55128 Mainz, Germany

    • Peter Hoppe

Contributions

D.H. and F.L. conducted the SEM and TEM work, P.H. and D.H. conducted the NanoSIMS work. D.H. contributed the modelling and wrote most of the paper with input from P.H. and F.L.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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