Meteor molecules give hint of possible early Earth life

Sept. 10, 2013 at 6:52 PM
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TEMPE, Ariz., Sept. 10 (UPI) -- A meteorite found in California last year contained organic molecules, suggesting an extraterrestrial source for the evolution of life on Earth, scientists say.

Researchers at Arizona State University found the so-called Sutter's Mill meteorite contains organic molecules not previously found in any meteorites, suggesting a far greater availability of extraterrestrial organic molecules than previously thought possible that could have contributed to molecular evolution on the early Earth.

The rapid recovery of the California meteorite allowed scientists to study for the first time a primitive meteorite with little exposure to the elements, providing the most pristine look yet at the surface of primitive asteroids, a university release said Tuesday.

The researchers conducted experiments on some of the meteor's fragments under hydrothermal conditions mimicking early Earth settings and observed the release of a complex mixture of oxygen-rich compounds and a large variety of long chain linear and branched polyether molecules.

This addition to the inventory of organic compounds produced in extraterrestrial environments suggests their delivery to the early Earth by comets and meteorites might have aided the molecular evolution that preceded the origins of life on our planet, the researchers said.

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