Scientists Find Primordial Organic Matter in Two Meteorites

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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.

"Our coordinated organic analysis of the salt crystals suggest 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, "said planetary scientist Queenie Chan, study author and postdoctoral research associate at The Open University in the UK".

Confirming that these compounds that are so important to life as we know it can fall to Earth in this way isn't proof that they triggered the beginnings of life, but it does mean that scenario is a real possibility.

Zag/Monahans meteorites and their salt (halite) crystals: (A) diagram showing the lithologies of the Zag and Monahans meteorites, their dark (carbonaceous) clasts, the salt crystals, and the fluid and solid inclusions within the salt crystals; (B) salt crystals hosted in the matrix regions of the Zag meteorite; the arrow marks one of the several salt crystals shown in this photo; (C) a microphotograph showing a salt crystal sampled from the Zag meteorite; (D) salt crystals sampled from the Zag meteorite contained in a pre-sterilized glass ampoule before hot-water extraction.

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. Upon close observation, scientists found traces of liquid water that dated to a time that was the initial stage of our solar system which is 4.5 billion years old.

Extensive analysis of the salt crystals also revealed the probable origins of the meteorites, including the dwarf planet Ceres and asteroid Hebe as major objects in the asteroid belt. It turns out that this space rock, along with another that fell in Morocco that same year, contained traces of liquid water and organic compounds vital to life.

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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.

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.

The two meteorites, which yielded the two-millimetre-sized salt crystals, were preserved at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Texas. "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".

The Science Advances published the abstract of the study.

Scientists believe that this discovery leads to the conclusion that the origin of life is possible elsewhere.