Radiolysis of Macromolecular Organic Material in Mars-Relevant Mineral Matrices

A. C. Fox, J. L. Eigenbrode, K. H. Freeman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


The fate of organic material on Mars after deposition is crucial to interpreting the source of these molecules. Previous work has addressed how various organic compounds at millimeter depths in sediments respond to ultraviolet radiation. In contrast, this study addressed how high-energy particle radiation (200-MeV protons, simulating the effect of galactic cosmic rays and solar wind at depths of <4–5 cm) influences organic macromolecules in sediments. Specifically, we report the generation of organic-acid radiolysis products after exposure to radiation doses equivalent to geological time scales (1–7 Myr). We found that formate and oxalate were produced from a variety of organic starting materials and mineral matrices. Unlike ultraviolet-driven reactions that can invoke Fenton chemistry to produce organic acids, our work suggests that irradiation of semiconductor surfaces, such as TiO2 or possible clay minerals found on Mars, forms oxygen and hydroxyl radical species, which can break down macromolecules into organic acids. We also investigated the metastability of benzoate in multiple mineral matrices. Benzoate was added to samples prior to irradiation and persisted up to 500 kGys of exposure. Our findings suggest that organic acids are likely a major component of organic material buried at depth on Mars.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3257-3266
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Planets
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 1 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Geophysics
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


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