Ingredients for life found in water-containing meteorites for 1st time

The solar system including Ceres

The solar system including Ceres

Crystals inside two meteorites, Zag and Monahans, have been found to contain carbon-based compounds.

The finding was made by an worldwide team of researchers, which included scientists from the Open University (OU) in the United Kingdom and Nasa's Johnson Space Centre in Texas. These space rocks carry similarities with our planet when it boils down to the basic ingredients of our life.

The in-depth analysis of the millimeter-sized salt crystals from the meteorites took time to complete because scientists needed a highly-sensitive instrument to study the crystals of amino acids at nanoscopic scales.

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

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".

Lead author Dr Queenie Chan, a postdoctoral researcher at OU, said: "We collected the tiny salt crystals from the meteorites and dissolved them in water so that we could extract the amino acids and separate any organic compounds to analyse them".

"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.

It's worth noting that the research that was undertaken in order to produce these findings took place in NASA's Johnson Space Center, in what is widely believed to be the cleanest laboratory in the world, thanks to the need to ensure that Earth microbes don't infect scientific experiments that are sent out into space. "We're looking at the organic ingredients that can lead to the origin of life".

The team used Raman spectroscopy, a technique that uses light to detect the chemical composition of organic materials, to confirm the presence of water. Both meteors are incredibly old and have some wonderful salt compounds crushed into their mass, but at the time of their initial arrival, all scientists could tell for sure was that they were both a bit damp - they contained traces of liquid water that probably came from outer space. "Combined with other evidence, the results support the idea 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".

"We believe the meteorite may have come from a stony asteroid, maybe an S-Type asteroid, which are not carbon-rich and are found in the same asteroid belt".

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