New Research Proves Ancient Meteorites Contain 'Building Blocks of Life' on Earth

Thursday, 11 January 2018 - 10:45AM
Space
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Thursday, 11 January 2018 - 10:45AM
New Research Proves Ancient Meteorites Contain 'Building Blocks of Life' on Earth
Image credit: Open University
An increasing body of research suggests that life on Earth came from outer space.

The theory is simple: while the Earth was a ripe and fertile planet at the dawn of life, it didn't contain the crucial ingredients that were needed for single-celled organisms to form. This special mix of primordial ooze—often referred to by scientists as the "building blocks of life" arrived on this planet by accident, thanks to a traveling meteor that crashed down upon our world, kickstarting the evolutionary process that led to our own existence.

While we still don't have a way to confirm exactly what first caused life to develop on Earth (we probably won't ever be entirely sure unless we manage to invent time travel to go back and check), this theory has gained a lot of credence recently, thanks to a new study into a pair of very old meteorites.

Zag and Monahan are a pair of space rocks that landed on Earth in 1998. 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.

Thankfully, 20 years of technological breakthroughs have meant that we're now able to get a better look at what's going on inside these meteors, and a new study from the Open University has proven absolutely fascinating.

It turns out that within the salt crystals on these meteors, there exists a bunch of the ingredients that are necessary to create life, including organic compounds such as amino acids.



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.

It's also important to point out that this doesn't mean that either Zag or Monahan ever actually played host to alien life—they merely have the ingredients for the cake, but these would need to mix together under the right conditions for a tiny little life form to come to life.

Nevertheless, this breakthrough is monumental as it goes a long way to us understanding the process by which life on Earth may have formed, as well as what it might look like if life similarly appeared elsewhere in the universe.

If it turns out that life requires not just a habitable planet, but also a very specific visit from a space rock that's covered in organic juices, it's worth assuming that life is unfortunately not as common an occurrence as we might like to hope.

At the same time, though, having definitive proof that meteors genuinely do sometimes contain amino acids allows us to be optimistic about the chances that another planet, somewhere out in the cosmos, has enjoyed a similar visitation from a big rocky lump of building blocks for life. If we're very lucky, we might not be entirely alone after all.
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