Published: Sat, January 13, 2018
Research | By Jody Lindsey

New Research Proves Ancient Meteorites Contain 'Building Blocks of Life' on Earth

New Research Proves Ancient Meteorites Contain 'Building Blocks of Life' on Earth

A team of researchers from the United States, UK and Japan has found liquid water and a mix of complex organic compounds in 4.5-billion-year-old salt crystals preserved in two unique meteorites, Zag and Monahans, which separately crashed to Earth in 1998.

"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", says the lead researcher, Queenie Chan from The Open University in the UK.

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.

Monahans meteorite landed in Texas in March 1998 while the Zag meteorite on a mountain in the vicinity of Zag, Morocco in August of the same year.

The meteorite crash yielded 2-millimetre-sized salt crystals, which contain organic solids and water traces measure just a fraction of the width of a human hair. The traces of water in the crystals are believed to almost 4.5 billion years old. The scientists suspected that the crystals might have originally been seeded by ice- or water-spewing volcanic activity on Ceres. Chan meticulously collected these crystals in a dust-controlled room, splitting off tiny sample fragments with metal instruments resembling dental picks.

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.

Using a combination high-sensitivity mass spectrometers, which detect different molecules based on their size, and NanoSIMS equipment, which uses beams of ions to study the chemical composition of organic materials, the scientists were able to determine the chemical composition of the salt crystals.

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

The team used numerous evolved techniques to carefully analyze the microscopic salt crystals inside the rocks which provided an in-depth study of the organic chemistry dominating the rocks. The results revealed traces of water and other organic compounds like carbon, oxygen and nitrogen.

"This proves to us the salt crystals and the meteorites come from two different asteroids".

In the meantime the affluent sediments of organic remains recuperated from the meteorites don't offer any evidence of life outside of Earth, Kilcoyne said that the meteorites' engulfment of rich chemistry is similar to the conservation of primordial insects in solidified sap droplets.

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 results were published in the journal Science Advances on Wednesday.

An increasing body of research suggests that life on Earth came from outer space.

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