GREENBELT, Md., Dec. 21 (UPI) -- U.S. scientists say they've found amino acids where they shouldn't be -- on a meteorite that formed from an asteroid so hot it should have destroyed the acids.
NASA researchers say the amino acids, the building blocks of life, may have formed through some mechanism that does not require water, increasing the chances of finding life beyond the solar system, ScienceNews.org reported Tuesday.
"Amino acids are forming in environments that we really didn't think were possible," Daniel Glavin of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., says.
He and his colleagues found the material in a fragment of the asteroid 2008 TC3 that was spotted before it slammed into Earth's atmosphere and rained meteorites onto the planet's surface.
The sample they analyzed was classified as a ureilite meteorite, a kind that originates from parent asteroids devoid of water and thus unable to form amino acids by known mechanisms.
Any new way of naturally producing amino acids "really increases the likelihood, in my opinion, of life existing elsewhere in the universe," Glavin says.
The finding shows, he says, "that synthesis of amino acids in nature can occur in unexpected places and ways, and that we should keep a very open mind about how and where prebiotic chemistry can occur."