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A ‘dry’ condensation origin for circumstellar carbonates


The signature of carbonate minerals has long been suspected in the mid-infrared spectra of various astrophysical environments such as protostars1. Abiogenic carbonates are considered as indicators of aqueous mineral alteration2 in the presence of CO2-rich liquid water. The recent claimed detection of calcite associated with amorphous silicates in two planetary nebulae3 and protostars4,5 devoid of planetary bodies questions the relevance of this indicator; but in the absence of an alternative mode of formation under circumstellar conditions, this detection remains controversial6,7,8. The main dust component observed in circumstellar envelopes is amorphous silicates9, which are thought to have formed by non-equilibrium condensation10. Here we report experiments demonstrating that carbonates can be formed with amorphous silicates during the non-equilibrium condensation of a silicate gas in a H2O-CO2-rich vapour. We propose that the observed astrophysical carbonates have condensed in H2O(g)-CO2(g)-rich, high-temperature and high-density regions such as evolved stellar winds, or those induced by grain sputtering upon shocks in protostellar outflows.

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Figure 1: Transmission electron micrographs of low-temperature condensates.
Figure 2: Typical mid-infrared transmission spectra (4,000–600 cm -1 ) of material condensed from Ca-Al-rich gas.
Figure 3: Spectrum 3 of the NGC 6302 planetary nebulae as observed by the Infrared Space Observatory Short Wavelength and Long Wavelength Spectrometers (10–200 µm).

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L. Zimmerman, R. Ruppen and F. Bendisari are thanked for technical help and J. Aléon, E. Deloule and J. Bradley for discussions. C. Kemper is thanked for providing the spectral data of NGC 6302.

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Correspondence to Alice Toppani.

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Reprints and permissions information is available at The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Discussion

This file contains a description of the analytical procedure for the transmission electron microscopy and for the mid and far-infrared spectroscopy. (DOC 28 kb)

Supplementary Figure Legends

This file contains legends for figures 1 to 6. (DOC 36 kb)

Supplementary Figure 1

This figure shows a schematic drawing of the experimental device. (PDF 18 kb)

Supplementary Figure 2

This figure shows the far-infrared spectrum (700–50 cm-1) of Ca-Al-rich material condensed in "wet" CO2 (25°C, 20 mbar H2O + 4 mbar CO2, 493 min). (PDF 173 kb)

Supplementary Figure 3

This figure shows the mid-infrared spectrum (4000–600 cm-1) of material condensed as a function of gas composition. (PDF 229 kb)

Supplementary Figure 4

This figure shows the mid-infrared spectrum (4000–600 cm-1) of material condensed as a function of duration of condensation. (PDF 230 kb)

Supplementary Figure 5

This figure shows the mid-infrared spectrum (4000–600 cm-1) of material condensed as a function of temperature of condensation. (PDF 257 kb)

Supplementary Figure 6

This figure shows the mid-infrared spectrum (4000–600 cm-1) of material condensed as a function of CO2 partial pressure. (PDF 226 kb)

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Toppani, A., Robert, F., Libourel, G. et al. A ‘dry’ condensation origin for circumstellar carbonates. Nature 437, 1121–1124 (2005).

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