Origins of Life and Evolution of Biospheres

, Volume 43, Issue 3, pp 221–245 | Cite as

Hydrogen Cyanide Production due to Mid-Size Impacts in a Redox-Neutral N2-Rich Atmosphere

  • Kosuke KurosawaEmail author
  • Seiji Sugita
  • Ko Ishibashi
  • Sunao Hasegawa
  • Yasuhito Sekine
  • Nanako O. Ogawa
  • Toshihiko Kadono
  • Sohsuke Ohno
  • Naohiko Ohkouchi
  • Yoichi Nagaoka
  • Takafumi Matsui
Prebiotic Chemistry


Cyanide compounds are amongst the most important molecules of the origin of life. Here, we demonstrate the importance of mid-size (0.1–1 km in diameter) hence frequent meteoritic impacts to the cyanide inventory on the early Earth. Subsequent aerodynamic ablation and chemical reactions with the ambient atmosphere after oblique impacts were investigated by both impact and laser experiments. A polycarbonate projectile and graphite were used as laboratory analogs of meteoritic organic matter. Spectroscopic observations of impact-generated ablation vapors show that laser irradiation to graphite within an N2-rich gas can produce a thermodynamic environment similar to that produced by oblique impacts. Thus, laser ablation was used to investigate the final chemical products after this aerodynamic process. We found that a significant fraction (>0.1 mol%) of the vaporized carbon is converted to HCN and cyanide condensates, even when the ambient gas contains as much as a few hundred mbar of CO2. As such, the column density of cyanides after carbon-rich meteoritic impacts with diameters of 600 m would reach ~10 mol/m2 over ~102 km2 under early Earth conditions. Such a temporally and spatially concentrated supply of cyanides may have played an important role in the origin of life.


Hydrogen cyanide Redox-neutral atmosphere Hypervelocity impacts Aerodynamic ablation Mass spectrometry Emission spectroscopy 



Hypervelocity impact experiments performed in this study were supported by the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, as a collaborative program of the Space Plasma Experiment. The authors appreciate M. Tabata for his help in the hypervelocity impact experiment. The authors thank R. Ishimaru, T. Sasaki, K. Fujita, K. Suzuki, M. Okada, and Y. Takase for their insightful comments. The authors also thank an anonymous referee for his critical reviews which helped improve the manuscript greatly and A. Schwartz for helpful comments as an editor. K. K. also thanks the members of the Graduate School of Environmental Studies of Nagoya University, S. Watanabe, M. Furumoto, and Y. Shimaki, for their support during writing of this manuscript. This study was supported in part by a Grant-in-Aid from the Japan Society for the Promotion Science.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kosuke Kurosawa
    • 1
    • 6
    Email author
  • Seiji Sugita
    • 2
  • Ko Ishibashi
    • 1
  • Sunao Hasegawa
    • 3
  • Yasuhito Sekine
    • 2
  • Nanako O. Ogawa
    • 4
  • Toshihiko Kadono
    • 5
  • Sohsuke Ohno
    • 1
  • Naohiko Ohkouchi
    • 4
  • Yoichi Nagaoka
    • 1
  • Takafumi Matsui
    • 1
  1. 1.Planetary Exploration Research CenterChiba Institute of TechnologyNarashinoJapan
  2. 2.Department of Complexity Science and EngineeringThe University of TokyoKashiwaJapan
  3. 3.Institute of Space and Astronautical ScienceJapan Aerospace Exploration AgencySagamiharaJapan
  4. 4.Institute of BiogeosciencesJapan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and TechnologyYokosukaJapan
  5. 5.School of MedicineUniversity of Occupational and Environmental HealthYahataJapan
  6. 6.NarashinoJapan

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