"Ingredients for Life Found" in Space Rocks

Researchers analysed salt crystals found in the two meteorites which are 4.5 billion years old

Researchers analysed salt crystals found in the two meteorites which are 4.5 billion years old

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 chemical makeup within tiny blue and purple salt crystals sampled from these meteorites, known as Monahans and Zag, showed a mix of complex organic compounds such as hydrocarbons and amino acids.

But how did the complex suite of organic compounds landed on the space rocks? 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. Similarities of the crystals found in the meteorites are also structural clues the two might have collided with each other and mixed fragments and materials.

The salt crystals have been preserved at NASA's Johnson Space Center, with experiments performed in what Queenie Chan of the center and The Open University described in a statement as the cleanest laboratories on Earth.

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".

While life-supporting elements like these have been discovered in space rocks in the past, this is the first time water and organic matter associated with it has been found at the same place.

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These include Ceres, a dwarf planet that is the largest object in the main asteroid belt, and the asteroid Hebe, a major source of meteorites that fall on Earth.

That makes them enticing for further study, so an global team of scientists analyzed the organic compounds in 2-mm long salt crystals inside the two meteorites.

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.

"We revealed that the organic matter was somewhat similar to that found in primitive meteorites, but contained more oxygen-bearing chemistry", study co-author Yoko Kebukawa said.

From there, the team says, it's possible that biomolecules or even microscopic life could be trapped in the salt crystals and transported around the cosmos. The scientists suspected that the crystals might have originally been seeded by ice- or water-spewing volcanic activity on Ceres. "There is a great range of organic compounds within these meteorites, including a very primitive type of organics that likely represent the early solar system's organic composition".

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