Research Article

Ammonium salts are a reservoir of nitrogen on a cometary nucleus and possibly on some asteroids

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Science  13 Mar 2020:
Vol. 367, Issue 6483, eaaw7462
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaw7462

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Ammonium salts on comet 67P

The distribution of carbon and nitrogen in the Solar System is thought to reflect the stability of carbon- and nitrogen-bearing molecules when exposed to the heat of the forming Sun. Comets have a low nitrogen-to-carbon ratio, which is contrary to expectations because they originate in the outer Solar System where nitrogen species should be common. Poch et al. used laboratory experiments to simulate cometary surfaces and compared the resulting spectra with comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. They assigned a previously unidentified infrared absorption band to nitrogen-containing ammonium salts. The salts could contain enough nitrogen to bring the comet's nitrogen-to-carbon ratio in line with the Sun's.

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