Did Life on Earth Begin on an Asteroid?

Posted June 24th, 2011 at 4:15 pm (UTC-5)
1 comment

Can life on Earth be traced to asteroids that crashed into our planet over the millenia?

A recent research project provides evidence to support that theory.

The study indicates that Earth-bound asteroids not only delivered the life-starting organic compounds, but also that these compounds evolved over time.

A research team, led by University of Alberta geologist Chris Herd, examined and analyzed one of the most pristine meteorites ever recovered and found that the composition of the organic compounds it carried had changed during the early years of the solar system.

These modified organics were then preserved for billions of years in outer space before the meteorite crashed to Earth.

The meteorite the team studied was one that fell near Tagish Lake in northern British Columbia in 2000.

Upon initial examination, the researchers found that variations in the geology of the meteorite samples were visible to the naked eye which, to them, indicated that the meteorite’s originating asteroid had gone through some substantial changes.

After examining these geological variations, the researchers turned their attention to looking for variations in the meteorite’s organic chemistry. Dr. Herd says that the researchers were then able to get a glimpse of the process that altered the composition of organic material carried by the asteroid.

Among the organic compounds found on the meteorite were amino acids and monocarboxylic acids, two chemicals believed to be essential to the evolution of the first simple life forms on Earth.

This weekend on the “Science World” radio program, Dr. Herd talks about this study and why he thinks that this finding shows the importance of asteroids to Earth’s history.

Listen to it here…

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Other stories we cover on the “Science World” radio program this week include:

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

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