Carbon isotope composition of low molecular weight hydrocarbons and monocarboxylic acids from Murchison meteorite

Nature. 1984 Jan 19-25;307(5948):252-4. doi: 10.1038/307252a0.


The origin of the organic matter in carbonaceous meteorites remains controversial despite extensive study over the past 20 yr. Motivated by the expectation that the patterns of isotopic variation with molecular structure among the organic compounds would contain important clues to their origin, we have measured the carbon isotopic compositions for individual hydrocarbons and monocarboxylic acids from Murchison meteorite, a C2 carbonaceous chondrite which fell in Australia in 1969. With few exceptions, notably benzene, the volatile products are substantially isotopically heavier than their terrestrial counterparts, signifying their extraterrestrial origin. For both classes of compounds, the ratio of 13C to 12C decreases with increasing carbon number in a roughly parallel manner, and each carboxylic acid exhibits a higher isotopic ratio than the hydrocarbon containing the same number of carbon atoms. These trends are consistent with the kinetically controlled synthesis of higher homologues from lower ones. The results suggest the possibility that the production mechanisms for hydrocarbons and carboxylic acids may be similar; they also impose constraints on the identity of the reactant species.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Carbon Dioxide / analysis
  • Carbon Isotopes
  • Carboxylic Acids / analysis*
  • Carboxylic Acids / chemical synthesis
  • Evolution, Chemical
  • Extraterrestrial Environment*
  • Hydrocarbons / analysis*
  • Hydrocarbons / chemical synthesis
  • Meteoroids*


  • Carbon Isotopes
  • Carboxylic Acids
  • Hydrocarbons
  • Carbon Dioxide