Ingredients for life found in meteorites

Two meteorites that fell to Earth in 1998 have been analysed using modern methods and have been found to contain essential ingredients for life – water, amino acids, hydrocarbons and other organic matter.

CNN:  Ingredients for life found in meteorites that crashed to Earth

Although two 4.5-billion-year-old meteorites crashed to Earth in 1998, it’s taken until now to uncover some of their secrets.

The two meteorites, called Monahans and Zag, are the first discovered to contain the ingredients for life: liquid water, amino acids, hydrocarbons and other organic matter.

A chemical-makeup analysis of blue and purple salt and potassium crystals from the meteorites was published in the journal Science Advances on Wednesday.

Although it’s not exactly proof that life exists beyond Earth, the traces of water in the salt crystals could date to the earliest days of our solar system.

This indicates a probability there are ingredients for life elsewhere in our own solar system, but while the odds are strongly in favour that this could be replicated elsewhere in the Universe it is not proof beyond our tiny patch.

Before slamming into Earth — one near a youth basketball game in Texas in March 1998 and another near Morocco in August 1998 — the meteorites lived in our solar system’s asteroid belt for billions of years.

The salt crystals from the two meteorites are similar, and researchers believe that these two objects crossed paths at some point. But the salt crystals were not always part of the meteorites themselves. It’s possible that they came from volcanic activity that ejected water or ice, which happens on ocean worlds in our solar system, and attached to the meteorites through impact.

A blue crystal recovered from a meteorite that fell near Morocco in 1998.

“Our coordinated organic analysis of the salt crystals suggest 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,” Queenie Chan, study author and postdoctoral research associate at The Open University in the UK, wrote in an email.

Chan said her team has saved some of the larger blue salt crystals for future analysis. They hope to discover more liquid water in the salt crystals and investigate the origin of the water itself. There are also other meteorite samples with well-preserved crystals that they want to test.

“Our finding that the meteorites contain a wide diversity of organic compounds is exciting, but what made me jump up and down was that we were able to investigate the soluble — such as amino acids, the building blocks of life — and insoluble organic compounds contain within the tiny salt crystals which are only about 2 mm in size each, and which are the hosts to liquid water — another crucial ingredient for life to occur,” Chan said.

“These results pay off the amount of time and effort I spent in the laboratory trying to break the meteorite sample apart to ‘hand pick’ and collect the stunning blue salt crystals.”

It has taken nearly twenty years to get these results.

Technology had to catch up before researchers could even think about the in-depth analysis they wanted to carry out.

More could be discovered from these and other meteorites in the future.

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1 Comment

  1. Kitty Catkin

     /  January 13, 2018

    It is fascinating to know, but I feel that Earth’s food problems should be taken care of before this sort of thing is done.

    What a pretty crystal !

    Reply

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