A week after announcing the discovery of arsenic-loving life-forms, NASA astronomers have uncovered ET amino acids—the precursors of proteins—in fragments of previously superheated meteorites that landed in northern Sudan from a 13-foot-wide (4-meter-wide) parent asteroid that entered an Earth-crossing orbit.
A collision about 15 million years ago sent the 59-ton asteroid closer to Earth—and provided scientists the first opportunity to observe a celestial object before it entered our atmosphere in October 2008. During desert expeditions, scientists later recovered nearly 600 meteorite fragments from the meteor shower.
"Previously, we thought the simplest way to make amino acids in an asteroid was at cooler temperatures in the presence of liquid water," Glavin said in a statement. "This meteorite suggests there's another way involving reactions in gases as a very hot asteroid cools down."
The discovery also "provides additional support for the theory that life's ingredients were delivered to the Earth by asteroids," he said.
"Finding evidence for the extraterrestrial amino acids in this meteorite is a big deal," Glavin said, "since we can learn about the chemistry that took place in space prior to the origin of life on Earth."
Likewise, "these meteorites would have contributed to the amino acid inventory of the early Earth and other planets in our solar system, including Mars," which may mean that organic compounds such as amino acids—delivered via asteroids—may have been much more pervasive throughout the solar system than thought, he said.
The new meteorite research is featured in 20 papers published this week in an issue of the Meteoritical Society's journal Meteoritics and Planetary Science.
Source and image credit: NASA/JPL
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