BBC Earth (Asia) - - Update -

Tiny crys­tals found em­bed­ded in two me­te­orites con­tain wa­ter and com­plex or­ganic com­pounds – in­gre­di­ents es­sen­tial for the de­vel­op­ment of life.

The crys­tal frag­ments were painstak­ingly ex­tracted from two dif­fer­ent me­te­orites, named Mon­a­hans and Zag, that have been stored at NASA’s John­son Space Cen­ter in Texas since they landed in 1998. Mon­a­hans smashed into the ground in Texas in March that year, while Zag plunged to Earth near Morocco in the Au­gust.

Cut­ting-edge X-ray scans of the crys­tals showed them to con­tain a range of or­ganic chem­i­cal com­po­nents in­clud­ing car­bon, oxy­gen and ni­tro­gen, as well as amino acids needed to form pro­teins. They also car­ried mi­cro­scopic traces of wa­ter be­lieved to date back to the in­fancy of the So­lar Sys­tem about 4.5 bil­lion years ago.

“This is re­ally the first time we have found abun­dant or­ganic mat­ter also as­so­ci­ated with liq­uid wa­ter that is re­ally cru­cial to the ori­gin of life and the ori­gin of com­plex or­ganic com­pounds in space,” said the Open Uni­ver­sity’s Dr Quee­nie Chan. “We’re look­ing at the or­ganic in­gre­di­ents that can lead to the ori­gin of life.”

A de­tailed study of the chem­istry of the tiny blue and pur­ple crys­tals sug­gests they may have orig­i­nally been seeded by vol­canic ac­tiv­ity on Ceres, which is a brown dwarf planet that is the largest ob­ject in the as­ter­oid belt be­tween the or­bits of Mars and Jupiter.

“Things are not as sim­ple as we thought they were,” Chan said. “Ev­ery­thing leads to the con­clu­sion that the ori­gin of life is re­ally pos­si­ble else­where. There is a great range of or­ganic com­pounds within these me­te­orites, in­clud­ing very prim­i­tive type of or­gan­ics that likely rep­re­sent the early So­lar Sys­tem’s or­ganic com­po­si­tion.”

This blue crys­tal, which con­tains wa­ter and com­pounds es­sen­tial for life, was found within the Zag me­te­orite

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