Did Meteorites Deliver Life to Earth?

Murchison meteorite
Fragment of the Murchison meteorite. (United States Department of Energy; uploaded en wikipedia by en:User:Carl Henderson., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

By Jim Brace-Thompson

Did life erupt spontaneously here on rocky Earth, or did it arrive from space? A reexamination of three meteorites suggests that the “right stuff” to create life may have arrived from the heavens rather than from the rocks here on Earth.

A recent study led by Yasuhiro Oba (Hokkaido Univeristy, Japan) and published in the journal Nature Commincations took a new look at three meteorites: the Murchison, Murray, and Tagish Lake meteorites. These particular meteorites have been studied before, but traditional techniques used in examining them for organic molecules would likely have degraded or destroyed the very molecules being sought. Such techniques involved strong acids and hot water.

Oba’s team used far gentler techniques to tease out components contained within the rocky meteroites. And those gentler techniques resulted in firm confirmation that such meteorites may indeed have delivered life-forming ingredients to Earth. The primary suspect being sought was hexamethylenetetramine. Hexa-what??? HTM, for short.

In the presence of hot liquid water, HMT breaks down into formaldehyde and ammonia. I wasn’t a chemistry major, so upon hearing this, I merely shrugged my shoulders. Well, as it turns out, these are prime ingredients to produce amino acids and sugars, which—in turn—can lead to life itself!

Oba’s kinder, gentler method of teasing info from meteorites provides one more link in a chain of evidence that some are using to posit that life on Earth derived from ingredients delivered from space.

Author: Jim Brace-Thompson

JimBraceThompson Jim began and oversees the AFMS Badge Program for kids, has been inducted into the National Rockhound & Lapidary Hall of Fame within their Education Category, and is the president-elect for the American Federation of Mineralogical Societies.
Contact him at jbraceth@roadrunner.com.


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