Ancient Meteorites Found To Contain The Building Blocks For Life

Asteroid asteroids space space dust outer space deep space

The meteorites fell to Earth in 1998 but the technology available at that time did not have the capability to detect traces of amino acids.

The study's lead author Dr Queenie Chan, a postdoctoral researcher at the UK's Open University, said: "We collected the tiny salt crystals from the meteorites and dissolved them in water so that we could extract the amino acids and separate any organic compounds to analyse them".

Dr Chan said researchers believe the salt in the halite crystals that became embedded in Zag and Mohanans may have originated in Ceres, a dwarf planet in the asteroid belt.

The detailed analysis of the chemical structure of the minuscule purple and blue salt crystals, taken from the meteorites provided certain evidence for the past interactions of the meteor along with the point of origin.

Experts first examined the rocks when the hit Earth in the U.S. state of Texas and Morocco in 1998.

The scientists used X-rays from the Advanced Light Source (ALS) facility at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California to identify the compounds and uncover this combination of life-giving ingredients. Kilcoyne was part of the global research team that prepared the study.

"While the rich deposits of organic remnants recovered from the meteorites don't provide any proof of life outside of Earth, the meteorites' encapsulation of rich chemistry is analogous to the preservation of prehistoric insects in solidified sap droplets".

An global team, including scientists from the Open University (OU) in the United Kingdom and Nasa Johnson Space Centre in Texas, found amino acids - which form the basis of proteins, hydrocarbons - organic compounds made up of hydrogen and carbon, and liquid water - the most important ingredient required to support life, within the salt crystals.

Meteorite blue crystals salt crystals crystals space science
Building blocks of life found in ancient meteorites that fell to Earth 20 years ago

If life did exist in some form in the early Solar System, salt crystal-containing meteorites raise the "possibility of trapping life and/or biomolecules" within the salt crystals. The traces of water in the crystals are believed to almost 4.5 billion years old.

In a scene straight out of a Steven Spielberg movie, one of the meteorites interrupted a kids' game of basketball in Texas, while the other landed near Morocco.

There are also structural clues of an impact-perhaps by a small asteroid fragment impacting a larger asteroid, Chan said.

The rocks carried water and organic matter that could not only give us new insights into the Solar System's history but also bolster the chances of finding life outside Earth. Now we know more about what makes them so special.

One possibility is that ice or water jets from volcanic activity on Ceres (similar to those on Enceladus) could have imbued these rocks with such a rich mix of compounds.

Everything leads to the conclusion that the origin of life is really possible elsewhere,"adds Dr. Chan". Yokohama National University associate professor Yoko Kebukawa said, "Combined with other evidence, the results support the idea that the organic matter originated from a water-rich, or previously water-rich parent body - an ocean world in the early solar system, possibly Ceres".

The crystal fragments analysed were just a fraction of the width of a human hair, monitored in a dust-controlled room.

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