By Richard Gray, Science Correspondent | Oct 9, 2010
Frozen water on asteroids may be more common than previously thought, according to new research that will help to support the idea they might have carried the key ingredient for life to the Earth.
Water ice and organic molecules that help to form the basis of life have been discovered on a second asteroid, called 65 Cybele, by astronomers.
The finding was reported at a meeting of planetary scientists in Pasadena, where scientists said the presence of ice lends support to theories that life on Earth was seeded from out of space after being carried here on asteroids.
The researchers made a similar discovery in April this year when they discovered the first evidence of ice on an asteroid called 24 Themis.
Both this asteroid and the latest discovery are found in the asteroid belt that sits between Mars and Jupiter.
Could life on Earth as we know it have come from outer space? New research from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory scientists shows that comets that crashed into Earth millions of years ago could have produced amino acids – the building blocks of life. Amino acids are critical to life and serve as the building blocks of proteins, which are linear chains of amino acids.
“There’s a possibility that the production or delivery of prebiotic molecules came from extraterrestrial sources,” Goldman said. “On early Earth, we know that there was a heavy bombardment of comets and asteroids delivering up to several orders of magnitude greater mass of organics than what likely was already here.
Livermore’s Nir Goldman and colleagues found that simple molecules found within comets (such as water, ammonia, methylene and carbon dioxide) just might have been instigators of life on Earth as the sudden compression and heating of cometary ices crashing into the planet can produce complexes resembling the amino acid, glycine.
Origins of life research initially focused on the production of amino acids from organic materials already present on the planet. Further research showed that Earth’s atmospheric conditions consisted mainly of carbon dioxide, nitrogen and water. Shock-heating experiments and calculations eventually proved that synthesis of organic molecules necessary for amino acid production will not occur in this type of environment.”
September 3, 2010 | by Michael Anft
Space scientists have put several men on the moon, robotically explored the farthest reaches of the solar system, and calculated the age and composition of the universe. But they’ve had a hard time nailing down two of the most basic questions about life on Earth: How did the surface of the planet become mostly water? Especially since the massive collision that formed the moon 4.5 billion years ago would have vaporized any water then present? And how did Earth acquire the organic compounds that cooked up life? The common wisdom has been that comets, cooled by ultra-frosty temperatures beyond the solar system, smashed into Earth sometime after the moon’s creation, bringing water in the form of ice, possibly along with organic matter essential to the creation of life.
But a recent pair of studies, one led by Andrew Rivkin, a planetary astronomer at the Applied Physics Laboratory, questions this long-held notion. Using infrared telescopes in Hawaii to measure the reflected light of asteroids, Rivkin’s team has discovered substantial ice and evidence of prebiotic, carbonaceous compounds on one of them. The finding, detailed in the April 29 issue of Nature, puts hypotheses on the origins of life on Earth in a new light and blurs distinctions scientists have long made between asteroids (orbiting rocky bodies that formed within the solar system) and comets (which typically come from outside our planetary system). A separate experiment run by an astronomer at the University of Central Florida (UCF) recently confirmed the Rivkin team’s results.
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