Monday, 15 October, 2018

Water-containing meteorites reveal ingredients for life

Scientists uncover building blocks for life on ancient meteorites News Image David Becker Zuma Press PA Images
Sandra Phillips | 12 January, 2018, 23:04

The researchers also analysed the chemical composition of the meteorite bodies and found the organic content to be different from those found in the crystals.

A team of researchers from the Berkley Lab at the Department of Energy organized a deep study of two meteorites that fell on Earth in the year 1998 to find evidence proving the presence of liquid water as well as a well-structured mix of complex organic compounds that included amino acids as well as hydrocarbons. The rocks were not the first of their kind to visit the planet, but they were the first meteorites found to contain ingredients essential for life.

The Science Advances published the abstract of the study. The scientists think the meteorites originated from asteroids like Ceres, the largest object in the asteroid belt and considered potentially habitable, and Hebe, another relatively large asteroid, which might be close enough to exchange materials the way subway riders exchange germs.

Dr Chan added: "Each salt crystal, which is about two millimetres in size and the colour of a blue sapphire, is essentially a little package full of organic compounds and the necessary building blocks of life". However, the organic chemistry of the same is somewhat relatable to the preservation aspect of prehistoric insects as solidified droplets of sap.

Carefully preserved at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Texas, the crystals carried microscopic traces of water that is believed to date back to the infancy of our solar system - about 4.5 billion years ago, Chan said.

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"This was actually the first comprehensive analysis of the salt crystals on Zag and Monahans".

Both the rocks showing evidence of similar organic structures point out to the fact that the parent asteroids of the rocks might have crossed each other during their journey thereby resulting in an exchange of materials.

"There are also structural clues of an impact - perhaps by a small asteroid fragment impacting a larger asteroid". An ALS X-ray beamline in conjunction with X-ray microscope along with XANES ray technique helped in measuring the specific amount of each element down to the accurate precision which was tens of nanometers.

The finding was made by an global team of researchers, which included 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.

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