Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

New Analysis Of Meteorite Shows Key Ingredients For Life On Earth May Have Been Delivered By Comets

Date:
February 28, 2001
Source:
Scripps Institution Of Oceanography
Summary:
An object that fell to Earth more than 136 years ago has revealed new clues about the origin of meteorites in space and new information about how life may have started on early Earth. The new study by researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, and their colleagues shows that the Orgueil meteorite, which fell in France in 1864, may be the first meteorite traced to a comet, rather than from an asteroid, the source widely believed to produce meteorites.

An object that fell to Earth more than 136 years ago has revealed new clues about the origin of meteorites in space and new information about how life may have started on early Earth. The new study by researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, and their colleagues shows that the Orgueil meteorite, which fell in France in 1864, may be the first meteorite traced to a comet, rather than from an asteroid, the source widely believed to produce meteorites.

The contents within Orgueil, the study says, may have been just the type of fundamental ingredients necessary to help generate life on Earth. Scientists have generally believed that a wide variety of amino acids were required for the origin of life on Earth.

"Recent research suggests, however, that only a few types of simple amino acids may have been required, and that is exactly what we have found to be present in Orgueil," said Jeffrey Bada, a professor of marine chemistry at Scripps.

The study appears in the Feb. 27 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and is authored by Bada, Daniel Glavin, and Oliver Botta of Scripps; Pascale Ehrenfreund of the Leiden Observatory in the Netherlands; and George Cooper of the NASA Ames Research Center.

Although the Orgueil meteorite, named after the French town near where it fell in 1864, had been analyzed decades ago, Bada and his colleagues conducted a new study using sophisticated techniques and instruments aimed at detecting trace levels of amino acids. Amino acids are the fundamental components of proteins and are synthesized in living cells.

After obtaining a pristine piece of the interior portion of Orgueil, the researchers found that it contained a relatively simple mixture of amino acids, consisting primarily of glycine and beta-alanine. They also analyzed the sample’s carbon isotope concentration and found that the amino acids were not derived from earthly contamination.

"We found that the amino acids in Orgueil are abiotic. They were formed without the help of biology, only chemical reactions," said co-author Botta. "We think these amino acids were synthesized in space."

The research team then compared their results with three other meteorites: Murchison and Murray, which have been studied extensively, and Ivuna, a meteorite that fell in Tanzania, Africa, in 1938 that had not been analyzed for amino acids.

The research team broke the meteorites down into two classes. The Murchison and Murray meteorites were placed in a category containing a complex mix of amino acids made up of more than 70 different types of amino acids. Orgueil and Ivuna, however, were categorized with a much simpler composition made up primarily of just two amino acids.

Based on the unique amino acid composition within Orgueil, the researchers were able to deduce information about the meteorite’s past. Murchison and Murray are widely believed to be pieces of an asteroid, as are virtually all meteorites scientists have studied. However the paper suggests Orgueil and Ivuna show evidence that they are likely derived from a comet. The amino acid signatures within Orgueil and Ivuna suggest that these compounds were likely synthesized from components such as hydrogen cyanide, which have been recently observed in the comets Hale-Bopp and Hyakutake.

"This suggested to us that what we may be seeing in Orgueil and Ivuna are the products of reactions that once took place in the nucleus of a comet," said Bada.

"If it’s true, this would be the first time that a meteorite from the nucleus of a comet has been identified," said co-author Glavin. "There is really a lot we don’t understand about the chemistry of a comet nucleus and this would be our first insight."

Thus, the paper suggests, the amino acids that helped generate life on Earth may have been delivered by meteorites that were derived from the remnants of comets.

The study was funded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Specialized Center of Research and Training in Exobiology at Scripps, the Austrian Academy of Sciences, and the Netherlands Research School for Astronomy.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Scripps Institution Of Oceanography. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Scripps Institution Of Oceanography. "New Analysis Of Meteorite Shows Key Ingredients For Life On Earth May Have Been Delivered By Comets." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 28 February 2001. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2001/02/010228080524.htm>.
Scripps Institution Of Oceanography. (2001, February 28). New Analysis Of Meteorite Shows Key Ingredients For Life On Earth May Have Been Delivered By Comets. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 16, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2001/02/010228080524.htm
Scripps Institution Of Oceanography. "New Analysis Of Meteorite Shows Key Ingredients For Life On Earth May Have Been Delivered By Comets." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2001/02/010228080524.htm (accessed September 16, 2014).

Share This



More Space & Time News

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

NASA’s Curiosity Rover Finally Reaches Long-Term Goal

NASA’s Curiosity Rover Finally Reaches Long-Term Goal

Newsy (Sep. 15, 2014) — After more than two years, NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover reached Mount Sharp, its long-term destination. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
SpaceX's Elon Musk Really Wants To Colonize Mars

SpaceX's Elon Musk Really Wants To Colonize Mars

Newsy (Sep. 14, 2014) — Elon Musk has been talking about his goal of colonizing Mars for years now, but how much of it does he actually have figured out, and is it possible? Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
International Space Station Crew Returns Safely To Earth

International Space Station Crew Returns Safely To Earth

Newsy (Sep. 11, 2014) — The three-man crew touched down in Kazakhstan Wednesday after more than five months of science experiments in orbit. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Solar Storm To Hit This Weekend, Scientists Not Worried

Solar Storm To Hit This Weekend, Scientists Not Worried

Newsy (Sep. 11, 2014) — Two solar flares which erupted in our direction this week will arrive this weekend. The resulting solar storm will be powerful but not dangerous. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins