Comet collisions seed life, study finds

Comet impacts generate shock waves that produce amino acids, the building blocks of life.
By KRISTEN BUTLER,  |  Sept. 16, 2013 at 8:42 AM
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Researchers have discovered how comets and meteorites seed the worlds they crash into with life.

"Our work shows that the basic building blocks of life can be assembled anywhere in the Solar System and perhaps beyond," said co-author Dr. Zita Martins.

Scientists from Imperial College London, the University of Kent and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory found that amino acids -- necessary for life -- are produced when a comet impacts a rocky world, or when a meteorite impacts an icy world.

The team recreated a comet impact with a large, high-speed gun located at the University of Kent. Researchers fired projectiles at 7.15 kilometers per second into different target ice mixtures resembling comets.

The resulting impact created amino acids including glycine and D-and L-alanine.

The impact's shock wave generates the molecules that make up amino acids, and it also generates heat, which transforms the molecules into amino acids.

"This process demonstrates a very simple mechanism whereby we can go from a mix of simple molecules, such as water and carbon-dioxide ice, to a more complicated molecule, such as an amino acid," said co-author Dr. Mark Price. "This is the first step towards life."

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