Building blocks of life seen in meteorites that fell in 1998

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  • Crystals inside meteorites Zag and Monahans have been found to contain carbon-based compounds. Scientists from the United Kingdom, the United States and Japan studied millimetre-size blue salt crystals inside the meteorites that fell in 1998 in Morocco and found a mixture of carbon-, oxygen- and nitrogen-bearing macromolecules in it.

What does the presence of carbon in the meteorites mean?

  • As carbon is the basic building block of all life forms on the Earth, the report has raised questions about the possibilities of life elsewhere in the solar system.
  • “The asteroidal parent body, potentially asteroid 1 Ceres, shows evidence of a complex combination of biologically and prebiologically relevant molecules,” says the study published in Science Advances.

Why it took 20 years to find this?

  • Hi-tech microscopes, spectroscopes and X-ray beamlines and years of study helped arrive at the conclusion.
  • “What makes our analysis so special is that we combined a lot of different state-of-the-art techniques to comprehensively study the organic components of these tiny salt crystals,” says Dr. Queenie Chan from The Open University, U.K., and first author of the paper in a press release from Berkeley University.

What were the instruments used?

  • Advanced Light Source(ALS)-X-ray beamline and a scanning transmission X-ray microscope were used to study the crystal. They also used X-ray absorption near edge structure spectroscopy (XANES) to measure the amount of specific elements in the crystal. These new techniques allowed them to study particles even smaller than one nanometer size.
  • “Things are not as simple as we thought they were. Everything leads to the conclusion that the origin of life is really possible elsewhere.