Schreibersite [iron-nickel phosphide] is a metallic compound that is extremely rare on Earth. But it is ubiquitous in meteorites, especially iron meteorites, which are peppered with schreibersite grains or slivered with pinkish-colored schreibersite veins.
Last April, Pasek, UA undergraduate Virginia Smith, and Lauretta mixed schriebersite with room-temperature, fresh, de-ionized water. They then analyzed the liquid mixture using NMR, nuclear magnetic resonance.
"We saw a whole slew of different phosphorus compounds being formed," Pasek said. "One of the most interesting ones we found was P2-O7 (two phorphorus atoms with seven oxygen atoms), one of the more biochemically useful forms of phosphate, similar to what's found in ATP."
Previous experiments have formed P2-07, but at high temperature or under other extreme conditions, not by simply dissolving a mineral in room-temperature water, Pasek said.
In contrast, apatite (the most common terrestial mineral phosphate) does not dissolve in such a complicated way. We also have a nice indirect tie-in with iron sulfide.