It is fascinating to think that all the matter of which we are made, the organic material of our body, and of all living beings on planet Earth, could have traveled for billions of years at the outer limit of the Solar System.
This is the conclusion of a study that has analyzed the chemical composition inside tiny crystals inside two meteorites, which crashed separately on Earth in 1998. Two isolated space rocks that, however, have something in common: the ingredients for life.
These are the first meteorites studied that have so much liquid water and a mixture of complex elements, such as hydrocarbons and amino acids. A finding that implies not only that life on Earth has an ‘extraterrestrial’ origin, but the possibility that life is frequent in other corners of the universe, including our cosmic neighborhood.
It is the first comprehensive chemical exploration of organic matter and liquid water in salt crystals found in meteorites that impact the Earth.
The study not only delves into the narrative of the early history of our Solar System and the geology of the asteroids, but also presents new and exciting possibilities for the existence of life in other parts of the Earth’s neighborhood.
The researchers analyzed the chemical composition within tiny crystals of blue and purple salt taken from these meteorites. In addition, they include results from X-ray experiments at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory of the Department of Energy (Berkeley Lab), which also found evidence of the mix and the past of the asteroid pair. According to the researchers, the source of these rocks would be Ceres, a brown dwarf planet that is the largest object in the asteroid belt; or the asteroid Hebe, one of the most common sources of meteorites that fall on Earth.
The study, published in the journal Science Advances, provides the first comprehensive chemical exploration of organic matter and liquid water in salt crystals found in meteorites that impact the Earth.
According to Dr. Queenie Chan, planetary scientist and researcher at the Open University in the United Kingdom and lead author of the study: “This is the first time we have found abundant organic matter associated with liquid water really crucial to the origin of life and the origin of complex organic compounds in space“.
“The organic matter was similar to that found in primitive meteorites, but it contained more oxygen.” In combination with other tests, the results support the idea that organic matter originated from a water-rich or previously rich-in-the-matrix organism. water: an oceanic world in the primitive Solar System, possibly Ceres”.
If life existed in any way in the early solar system, the study points out that these meteorites containing salt crystals increase the “possibility of trapping life and / or biomolecules” within their salt crystals. The crystals carried microscopic traces of water that is believed to date back to the childhood of our Solar System, about 4.5 billion years ago.
Organic matter ‘transshipped’ between asteroids
The similarity of the crystals found in the meteorites – one of which crashed in Texas in March 1998 and another, near Morocco in August 1998 – suggests that their asteroids could have crossed.
There are also structural tracks of an impact, perhaps by a small fragment of an asteroid that impacted a larger asteroid.
This opens up many possibilities on how organic matter can pass from one object to another in space, which would imply reconsidering the processes that lead to the complex set of organic compounds in these meteorites.
“Everything leads to the conclusion that the origin of life is really possible in other places,” says Chan.
The two meteorites that produced the 2-millimeter salt crystals were carefully preserved at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Texas, and small crystals containing organic solids and traces of water are only a fraction of the width of a human hair.