Ancient "ocean world" may have seeded meteorites with life's ingredients

Ancient

Space boffins found the rocks, which are approximately 4.5 billion years old, contain both water and organic compounds.

The strong organic structure decoded from the meteorites does not provide a full proof evidence for the presence of life beyond Earth.

From there, the team says, it's possible that biomolecules or even microscopic life could be trapped in the salt crystals and transported around the cosmos.

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. Finally, they analyzed the amino acids-building blocks of proteins-they found inside. "However, we believe the salt crystals are from another object in space - the largest asteroid in the asteroid belt, Ceres; it suggests that Ceres could be a water-rich world that is a suitable place for the formation of life." said Chan.

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. One of the meteorites hit Earth near a children's basketball game in Texas in March 1998 while the other hit near Morocco in August in the same year.

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The in-depth analysis of the millimeter-sized salt crystals from the meteorites took time to complete because scientists needed a highly-sensitive instrument to study the crystals of amino acids at nanoscopic scales.

Technology available when the ancient space rocks crash landed on the planet two decades ago was not sensitive enough to reveal the secrets they held. The crystals were around two millimeters in size and contained organic solids and water traces a mere fraction of the width of human hair.

The finding was made by an global team of researchers, which included scientists from the Open University (OU) in the United Kingdom and Nasa's Johnson Space Centre in Texas.

The journal Science Advances published the research this week. The scientists suspected that the crystals might have originally been seeded by ice- or water-spewing volcanic activity on Ceres. Yokohama National University associate professor Yoko Kebukawa said, "Combined with other evidence, the results support the idea 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".

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