Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Reactive ammonia in the solar protoplanetary disk and the origin of Earth’s nitrogen

Abstract

Terrestrial nitrogen isotopic compositions are distinct from solar and cometary values and similar to those of primitive meteorites, suggesting that Earth’s 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 Earth’s 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.

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: Mineralogy of PCS grain 98F03 from Y-791198.
Figure 2: Localization of nitrogen by NanoSIMS.
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.
Figure 4: Gas mixing at 750 K between solar gas (diamonds) and an ice-derived gas of Hale–Bopp-like elemental composition (circles).

References

  1. 1

    Marty, B. The origins and concentrations of water, carbon, nitrogen and noble gases on Earth. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 313–314, 56–66 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. 2

    Alexander, C. M. O’ D. et al. The provenances of asteroids, and their contributions to the volatile inventories of the terrestrial planets. Science 337, 721–723 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. 3

    Kvenvolden, K. et al. Evidence for extraterrestrial amino-acids and hydrocarbons in the Murchison meteorite. Nature 228, 923–926 (1970).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. 4

    Engel, M. H. & Macko, S. A. Isotopic evidence for extraterrestrial non-racemic amino acids in the Murchison meteorite. Nature 389, 265–268 (1997).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. 5

    Nazarov, M. A. et al. Phosphorus-bearing sulfides and their associations in CM chondrites. Petrology 17, 101–123 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. 6

    Devouard, B. & Buseck, P. R. Phosphorus-rich iron, nickel sulfides in CM2 chondrites: Condensation or alteration products? Meteorit. Planet. Sci. 32, A34 (1997).

    Google Scholar 

  7. 7

    Kerridge, J. F. Carbon, hydrogen and nitrogen in carbonaceous chondrites: Abundances and isotopic compositions in bulk samples. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 49, 1707–1714 (1985).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. 8

    Pizzarello, S., Feng, X., Epstein, S. & Cronin, J. R. Isotopic analyses of nitrogenous compounds from the Murchison meteorite: Ammonia, amines, amino acids, and polar hydrocarbons. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 58, 5579–5587 (1994).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. 9

    Marty, B., Chaussidon, M., Wiens, R. C., Jurewicz, A. J. G. & Burnett, D. S. A. 15N-poor isotopic composition for the Solar System as shown by Genesis solar wind samples. Science 332, 1533–1536 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. 10

    Manfroid, J. et al. The CN isotopic ratios in comets. Astron. Astrophys. 503, 613–624 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. 11

    Briani, G. et al. Pristine extraterrestrial material with unprecedented nitrogen isotopic variation. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 106, 10522–10527 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. 12

    Sennour, M., Jouneau, P. H. & Esnouf, C. TEM and EBSD investigation of continuous and discontinuous precipitation of CrN in nitrided pure Fe–Cr alloys. J. Mater. Sci. 39, 4521–4531 (2004).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. 13

    Mittemeijer, E. J. & Slycke, J. T. Chemical potentials and activities of nitrogen and carbon imposed by gaseous nitriding and carburising atmospheres. Surf. Eng. 12, 152–162 (1996).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. 14

    Lauretta, D. S., Lodders, K. & Fegley, B. Experimental simulations of sulfide formation in the solar nebula. Science 277, 358–360 (1997).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. 15

    Fegley, B. Primordial retention of nitrogen by terrestrial planets and meteorites. J. Geophys. Res. 88, A853–A868 (1983).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. 16

    Guo, W. & Eiler, J. M. Temperatures of aqueous alteration and evidence for methane generation on the parent bodies of the CM chondrites. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 71, 5565–5575 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. 17

    Lewis, J. S. & Prinn, R. G. Kinetic inhibition of CO and N2 reduction in the solar nebula. Astrophys. J. 238, 357–364 (1980).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. 18

    Yamamoto, T., Nakagawa, N. & Fukui, Y. The chemical composition and thermal history of the ice of a cometary nucleus. Astron. Astrophys. 122, 171–176 (1983).

    Google Scholar 

  19. 19

    Bockelée-Morvan, D. & Crovisier, J. Lessons of comet Hale–Bopp for coma chemistry: Observations and theory. Earth Moon Planets 89, 53–71 (2002).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. 20

    Maret, S., Bergin, E. A. & Lada, C. J. A low fraction of nitrogen in molecular form in a dark cloud. Nature 442, 425–427 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. 21

    Hosmani, S. S., Schacherl, R. E. & Mittemeijer, E. J. Nitrogen absorption by Fe-1.04 at.% Cr alloy: Uptake of excess nitrogen. J. Mater. Sci. 43, 2618–2624 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. 22

    Ciesla, F. J., Lauretta, D. S., Cohen, B. A. & Hood, L. L. A nebular origin for chondritic fine-grained phyllosilicates. Science 299, 549–552 (2003).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. 23

    Nuth, J. A., Johnson, N. M. & Manning, S. A self-perpetuating catalyst for the production of complex organic molecules in protostellar nebulae. Astrophys. J. 673, L225 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. 24

    Elsila, J. E., Charnley, S. B., Burton, A. S., Glavin, D. P. & Dwornik, J. P. Compound-specific carbon, nitrogen, and hydrogen isotopic ratios for amino acids in CM and CR chondrites and their use in evaluating potential formation pathways. Meteorit. Planet. Sci. 47, 1517–1536 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. 25

    Walsh, K. J., Morbidelli, A., Raymond, S. N., O’Brien, D. P. & Mandell, A. M. A low mass for Mars from Jupiter’s early gas-driven migration. Nature 475, 206–209 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. 26

    Lis, D. C., Wootten, A., Gerin, M. & Roueff, E. Nitrogen isotopic fractionation in interstellar ammonia. Astrophys. J. Lett. 710, L49 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. 27

    Aléon, J. Multiple origins of nitrogen isotopic anomalies in meteorites and comets. Astrophys. J. 722, 1342–1351 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. 28

    Hartogh, P. et al. Ocean-like water in the Jupiter-family comet 103P/Hartley 2. Nature 478, 218–220 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. 29

    Brown, M. E., Schaller, E. L. & Fraser, W. C. A hypothesis for the color diversity of the Kuiper belt. Astrophys. J. Lett. 739, L60 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. 30

    Castillo-Rogez, J. C. & McCord, T. B. Ceres’ evolution and present state constrained by shape data. Icarus 205, 443–459 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

Funding was provided by the German Research Foundation (DFG) through grant LA 830/14-1 (F.L.). We gratefully acknowledge the National Institute of Polar Research (NIPR, Japan) for providing us with the meteorite samples.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

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.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Dennis Harries.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Information (PDF 4092 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Harries, D., Hoppe, P. & Langenhorst, F. Reactive ammonia in the solar protoplanetary disk and the origin of Earth’s nitrogen. Nature Geosci 8, 97–101 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo2339

Download citation

Further reading

Search

Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing