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Presence and Role of Organic Matter in Icy Satellites and ExtraSolar planets

Project description

Study to investigate how organic matter shaped the evolution of icy worlds

Research suggests that heavy organic molecules account for a large part of the outer solar system bodies such as icy moons, comets and trans-Neptunian objects. So far, the presence of carbonaceous organic matter, a low-density organic matter component, has been largely overlooked. The EU-funded PROMISES project aims to study the interaction of carbonaceous organic matter with ice and rocks, which is essential for understanding the evolution of ocean worlds and assessing their potential to host life. To synthesise the material, researchers will use a high-pressure device called a diamond anvil cell. Furthermore, they will create new models to study the chemical reactions and thermochemical properties of the interacting heavy organic molecules.


There is growing evidence that heavy organic molecules are a major component of the outer solar system bodies such as icy moons, comets, and Trans-Neptunian Objects (TNOs). Density profiles inferred from measurements of space missions require a low-density component in the core of the largest objects such as Ganymede and Titan. These observations suggest that a previously overlooked low-density component, identified as carbonaceous organic matter (COM), is one of the three main components, in addition to ice and rocks, building planetary bodies that formed beyond the ice line. However, there is a dearth of laboratory experiments and numerical simulations exploring the interaction of the heavy organic molecules constituting the COM with both the ice component (mainly H2O ices) and the rocky component (hydrated silicates, oxides and sulphides) at pressures relevant to icy moons. Observations from space missions also demonstrated that most icy moons are differentiated into a refractory core and an outer hydrosphere that includes a liquid layer (deep ocean), thus the name of ocean worlds. This raises the questions of the emergence of life at the ocean/core interface and of the habitability of ocean worlds. How does the presence of COM affect the thermal and chemical evolution of ocean worlds? The interaction between COM, ice and rocks is therefore essential for understanding the evolution of ocean worlds and for assessing their habitability potential. First, this project conducts laboratory experiments using diamond anvil cells (DAC) coupled with in situ Raman spectroscopy, a combination that is best suited for this kind of investigation. Second, it develops a thermochemical evolution model that can handle the chemical reactions and the thermo-chemical properties of the three components. Third, it applies the results to the evolution of ocean worlds in our solar system and beyond.

Host institution

Net EU contribution
€ 1 854 958,75
44000 Nantes

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Pays de la Loire Pays de la Loire Loire-Atlantique
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 1 854 958,75

Beneficiaries (3)