Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Meteor Strike May Have Sparked Life On Earth

I know, sounds like I am splitting hairs here because the argument has been postulated for some time that meteor and asteroid strikes on early Earth may have brought biological compounds or even life itself to Earth.

The difference here is much like the earlier work of University of Chicago chemist Stanley Miller who half a century ago showed that lightning strikes in a primordial atmosphere could produce amino acids — the protein-forming building blocks of life. However new research has determined that Earth's early atmosphere was drastically different than the one envisioned by Miller and instead a mix of ammonia and water, much like what composed Earth's early seas. Which brings us once again back to meteors.

Yoshihiro Furukawa of Tohoku University, who is studying this phenomenon wrote "Our study shows that biomolecules could be produced on early Earth by reactions among meteorites, water and atmosphere." Furukawa's experiments involve balls of iron and carbon shot into a stew of water and ammonia. Furukawa launched his pellets from a propellant gun at 4,500 miles per hour into a stainless steel container of water and ammonia. The impacts generated temperatures of 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The simulation produced compounds required to form the first cells. These compounds were fatty acids, amines and an amino acid called glycine. Fatty acids are a component of cell walls, and amines are a basic component of amino acid.

Furukawa's team plans to repeat their experiment in other ocean conditions. They are confident, they write, that meteor impacts explain explain the "bulk of organic molecules necessary for life's origins."

The conclusion that comes to mind though is that meteors need not have carried live or even the basic building blocks - but quite possibly just being in the right place at the right time may have been all that was needed to jump start life on Earth.

<- via Wired ->

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