Meteorite Reveals Organic Chemistry of Earth’s Early History

The latest research from Carnegie’s Department of Terrestrial Magnetism and Geophysical Laboratory, which was published June 10 in the journal, Science, reveals that the complex set of materials found in certain types of meteorites (carbonaceous chondrites) contain the remains of those materials that created our planets nearly 4.6 billion years ago. Further, these same materials may even include those that may have been integral to formation of life on earth!

The materials found in carbonaceous chondrites can vary greatly from meteorite to meteorite due to extremely hot liquid activity that occurred during the formation of the Solar System, when the meteorites were still part of larger asteroids. The similarity between this organic material and organic matter found in other samples is a good indication that all of the organic matter throughout the Solar System may have originated from a common source.

The test for this hypothesis would be the determination of a connection between the extent of hydrothermal (hot water) modification that a meteorite experienced and the resulting chemistry of the organic material it contains.

The research team led by Christopher Herd of the University of Alberta, Canada, and including Carnegie’s Conel Alexander, Larry Nittler, Frank Gyngard, George Cody, Marilyn Fogel, and Yoko Kebukawa, studied specimens from four meteorites that fell on Tagish Lake in northern Canada eleven years ago. These specimens were selected because they were untouched by human hands, collected just a few days after they fell on the frozen lake and have been frozen ever since.

These samples contained many elements perhaps the most interesting of which were amino acids, which are the building blocks of life utilized by organisms to create protein. In addition, the variations and prodigious amounts of amino acids indicate an extraterrestrial origin.

The boundaries of knowledge about our dynamic world are growing smaller and smaller every day.


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