Building blocks of life seen in meteorites that fell in 1998

An artists impression of a meteor approaching earth

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. "Are essentially little packages full of organic compounds including amino acids - the building blocks of life".

A detailed analysis of the chemical makeup within tiny blue and purple salt crystals sampled from the two meteorites, known as Monahans and Zag, found a mix of complex organic compounds such as hydrocarbons and amino acids, according to the study published Wednesday in the USA journal Science Advances. They are the initial meteorites discovered to incorporate liquid water and a combination of intricate organic compounds such as hydrocarbons and amino acids.

"We revealed that the organic matter in these meteorites (Monahans smashed into the ground near a children's basketball game in Texas in March 1998 and Zag hit near Morocco in August 1998) was somewhat similar to that found in primitive meteorites, but contained more oxygen-bearing chemistry", said Dr. Yoko Kebukawa, from Yokohama National University, Japan.

What they found was simply that both meteorites did contain some liquid water, any further analysis however was limited due to the technology of the period.

Experts examined crystals found on Zag and Monahans, two 4.5 billion-year-old rocks from the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

It took scientists nearly two decades to comprehensively analyze samples from the pair of meteorites that were believed to have existed some 4.5 billion years ago. Samples from the space rocks were preserved at the NASA Johnson Space Center.

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

This opens up many possibilities for how organic matter may be passed from one host to another in space, and scientists may need to rethink the processes that led to the complex suite of organic compounds on these meteorites.

"We conducted the experiments in the cleanest laboratories in the world at the NASA Johnson Space Centre, which avoided any contamination from things such as dust in the air." said Chan. The journal Science Advances carried the findings of this study which included a well-detailed chemical structure analysis of the organic matter present in the rocks.

The researchers also analysed the chemical composition of the meteorite bodies and found the organic content to be different from those found in the crystals, which led them to believe that the salt crystals may have a different origin to the meteorites. The scientists suspected that the crystals might have originally been seeded by ice- or water-spewing volcanic activity on Ceres.

Everything leads to the conclusion that the origin of life is really possible elsewhere,"adds Dr. Chan".

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