Building blocks of life seen in meteorites that fell in 1998

Research finds ingredients on meteorites that confirms the possibility of alien life in space

Although two 4.5-billion-year-old meteorites crashed to Earth in 1998, it's taken until now to uncover some of their secrets.

An global team, including scientists from the Open University (OU) in the United Kingdom and Nasa Johnson Space Centre in Texas, found amino acids - which form the basis of proteins, hydrocarbons - organic compounds made up of hydrogen and carbon, and liquid water - the most important ingredient required to support life, within the salt crystals.

It turns out that within the salt crystals on these meteors, there exists a bunch of the ingredients that are necessary to create life, including organic compounds such as amino acids. Now, after 20 long years, detailed analysis of the tiny blue and purple salt crystals that came from these meteorites has led scientists to the vital signs of life. These space rocks carry similarities with our planet when it boils down to the basic ingredients of our life. The rocks had been preserved at NASA's Johnson Space Center, and fragments were carefully removed and then tested with an X-ray beamline and microscope, as well as other chemical experiments.

Organic remnants recovered from the meteorites don't provide any proof of life outside of Earth, Chan noted.

That makes them enticing for further study, so an global team of scientists analyzed the organic compounds in 2-mm long salt crystals inside the two meteorites.

And they had something in common besides reaching Earth the same year: they were the first meteorites we've found to have both complex organic compounds like amino acids and hydrocarbons, and liquid water.

"We revealed that the organic matter was somewhat similar to that found in primitive meteorites, but contained more oxygen-bearing chemistry", study co-author Yoko Kebukawa said. These encompass Ceres, a brown dwarf planet that is a huge entity in the asteroid belt, and the asteroid Hebe, a considerable origin of meteorites that cascade on Earth.

The journal Science Advances published the research this week.

But if life did exist in some form in the early solar system, these salt crystal-containing meteorites raise the possibility of trapping life or biomolecules within their salt crystals, she said.

Dr Chan added: 'We believe that the salt may have originated in Ceres or some other carbon-rich asteroid body, while the meteorites come from a different parent body - one that has been heated to 950°C (1750°F) so any trace of liquid water present in it would have gone.

"Everything leads to the conclusion that the origin of life is really possible elsewhere", says Chan.

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