Saturday, 20 January, 2018

Compounds essential for life found on two ancient meteorites

Recent discovery in Meteorites may prove there is life outside Earth - Study Compounds essential for life found on two ancient meteorites
Kristine Garrett | 14 January, 2018, 09:34

The in-depth analysis of the millimeter-sized salt crystals from the meteorites took time to complete because scientists needed a highly-sensitive instrument to study the crystals of amino acids at nanoscopic scales.

"Things are not as simple as we thought they were".

Scientists have discovered liquid water and organic compounds essential for life on two ancient meteorites that fell to Earth nearly 20 years ago.

And while it doesn't prove life exists outside Earth, it certainly raises the possibility.

"This is really the first time we have found abundant organic matter also associated with liquid water that is really crucial to the origin of life and the origin of complex organic compounds in space", Queenie Chan, a planetary scientist at the Open University in Britain and the study's lead author, said in a statement.

The team used Raman spectroscopy, a technique that uses light to detect the chemical composition of organic materials, to confirm the presence of water.

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. They date from 4.5 billion years ago, around the earliest days of our solar system.

It turns out that this space rock, along with another that fell in Morocco that same year, contained traces of liquid water and organic compounds vital to life.

20 years after they landed on earth, meteorite fragments studied by scientists were known to contain organic elements considered as ingredients to life.

Everything leads to the conclusion that the origin of life is really possible elsewhere,"adds Dr. Chan".

Zag/Monahans meteorites and their salt (halite) crystals: (A) diagram showing the lithologies of the Zag and Monahans meteorites, their dark (carbonaceous) clasts, the salt crystals, and the fluid and solid inclusions within the salt crystals; (B) salt crystals hosted in the matrix regions of the Zag meteorite; the arrow marks one of the several salt crystals shown in this photo; (C) a microphotograph showing a salt crystal sampled from the Zag meteorite; (D) salt crystals sampled from the Zag meteorite contained in a pre-sterilized glass ampoule before hot-water extraction. The results revealed traces of water and other organic compounds like carbon, oxygen and nitrogen.

The bombshell findings were made by a team of researchers, including scientists from the Open University (OU) in the United Kingdom and NASA's Johnson Space Centre in Texas.

Nevertheless, this breakthrough is monumental as it goes a long way to us understanding the process by which life on Earth may have formed, as well as what it might look like if life similarly appeared elsewhere in the universe.

"The asteroidal parent body, potentially asteroid 1 Ceres, shows evidence for a complex combination of biologically and prebiologically relevant molecules", says the study published in Science Advances. 13 scientists from institutions in the United States and Japan contributed.

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