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The organic precursors to life, including the chemical building blocks of protein and lipids, are known to be produced by abiotic chemical reactions in the presolar nebula and on asteroids in the early solar system. Understanding the conditions and reactions involved in the synthesis of these compounds is key to understanding the potential for life to exist beyond Earth. A wide range of prebiotic organic compounds have been identified in carbonaceous chondrite meteorites using bulk solvent extraction methods and GC-MS, GC-IRMS, and HPLC techniques. These methods provide a wealth of information about the types and concentrations of prebiotic compounds produced in space, as well as potential synthesis reactions; however, a key question that remains is whether these compounds vary spatially across a meteorite section.
Time-of-flight secondary ion mass spectrometry (ToF-SIMS) offers a unique opportunity to examine the spatial distribution of specific organic compounds across a meteorite sample and observe potential compound-mineral associations. In this study, we carried out a ToF-SIMS analysis of the prebiotic organic content of the Murchison carbonaceous chondrite to determine whether prebiotic compounds, such as amino acids and carboxylic acids (the building blocks of protein and lipids, respectively) can be identified in the meteorite using this method, as well as to examine potential spatial variations across the meteorite sample. Characteristic fragments of amino acids, carboxylic acids and PAHs were identified in each sample area. Some spatial variations of organic ion fragments were also observed, revealing potential associations with chondrules and matrix minerals; however, the molecular origins of these specific ion fragments remain to be determined. Overall, this study illustrates the applicability of ToF-SIMS as a useful tool for mapping the distribution of organic compounds within meteorite samples and the results reveal potential compound-mineral associations that require further investigation.