News / Science & Technology

Study: Comet Crashes Kick-start Life Across Solar System

2010's Comet McNaught. (NASA)
2010's Comet McNaught. (NASA)
Rick Pantaleo
Comets and other celestial travelers carry ingredients that can help kick-start life on planets, according to a team of British and American scientists.

The scientists from Imperial College London, The University of Kent and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory say they’ve discovered  a cosmic factory for producing amino acids, which are considered to be the building blocks of life.

According to the researchers, those potential life-producing amino acids are formed when an icy comet smashes into a planet or a rocky meteorite collides with an ice covered planet.

The new findings provide additional clues as to how life began on Earth some 3.8 to 4.5 billion years ago, when our planet was frequently being blasted with comets and meteorites.

"This process demonstrates a very simple mechanism whereby we can go from a mix of simple molecules, such as water and carbon dioxide ice, to a more complicated molecule, such as an amino acid,” said co-author Mark Price from the University of Kent. “This is the first step towards life. The next step is to work out how to go from an amino acid to even more complex molecules such as proteins.”

The researchers found a shock wave is generated when a comet collides with a planet. That shock wave produces the kind of molecules needed to form amino acids.

Enceladus, one of moons of Saturn, as seen by NASA's Cassini spacecraft. (NASA)Enceladus, one of moons of Saturn, as seen by NASA's Cassini spacecraft. (NASA)
x
Enceladus, one of moons of Saturn, as seen by NASA's Cassini spacecraft. (NASA)
Enceladus, one of moons of Saturn, as seen by NASA's Cassini spacecraft. (NASA)
"Our work shows that the basic building blocks of life can be assembled anywhere in the Solar System and perhaps beyond. However, the catch is that these building blocks need the right conditions in order for life to flourish,” said  co-author  Zita Martins from Imperial College London. “Excitingly, our study widens the scope for where these important ingredients may be formed in the Solar System and adds another piece to the puzzle of how life on our planet took root."

To make their findings, the scientists recreated a comet’s collision with a planet by firing projectiles into mixtures of ice that were similar to the composition of a comet. 

They said  the impacts resulted in the production of amino acids like glycine and D and L-alanine.

The research team said that they also thought a couple of distant ice covered moons-- Enceladus, which orbits Saturn, and Europa which circles Jupiter--could both provide perfect settings for producing amino acid when meteorites smash into them.  

The findings could provide support for future missions to the faraway moons to look for signs of life.

You May Like

Pundits Split Over Long-Term US Role in Afghanistan

Security pact remains condition for American presence beyond 2014; deadline criticized More

US Eyes Islamic State Threat

Officials warn that IS could pose a threat to US homeland More

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Moscow says Russian troops crossed into Ukrainian territory by mistake More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: James watts from: Toronto, Canada
October 05, 2013 12:02 AM
I do agree with most of the text above. Although the Comet or meteorite would have to smash into an earth like planet that has h2o and a sufficient gravity to keep that water from leaving the atmosphere. As has happened on Mars. Although I do believe in life on other planets, I do think that is not as common as some scientists think. Of course this speculation on my part...

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocksi
X
George Putic
August 25, 2014 4:00 PM
How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Ukrainian officials say they have captured Russian soldiers on Ukrainian territory -- the latest accusation of Moscow's involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the Ukrainian side of the battle, where soldiers are convinced of Russia's role.
Video

Video Rubber May Soon Come From Dandelions

Synthetic rubber has been around for more than a century, but quality tires for cars, trucks and aircraft still need up to 40 percent or more natural rubber content. As the source of natural rubber, the rubber tree, is prone to disease and can be affected by bad weather. So scientists are looking for replacements. And as VOA’s George Putic reports, they may have found one in a ubiquitous weed.
Video

Video Jewish Life in Argentina Reflected in Yiddish Tango

Jewish people from across Europe and Russia have been immigrating to Argentina for hundreds of years. They brought with them dance music that were eventually mixed with Argentine tango. The result is Yiddish tango -- a fusion of melodies and cultural experiences that is still evolving today. Elizabeth Lee reports from the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, where one band is bringing Yiddish tango to an American audience.
Video

Video Peace Returns to Ferguson as Community Tries to Heal

Thousands of people nationwide are expected to attend funeral services Monday in the U.S. Midwestern city of St. Louis, Missouri, for Michael Brown, the unarmed African-American teenager who was fatally shot by a white police officer August 9 in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson. The shooting touched off days of violent demonstrations there, resulting in more than 100 arrests. VOA's Chris Simkins reports from Ferguson where the community is trying to move on after weeks of racial tension.
Video

Video Meeting in Minsk May Hinge on Putin Story

The presidents of Russia and Ukraine are expected to meet face-to-face Tuesday in Minsk, along with European leaders, for talks on the situation in Ukraine. Political analysts say the much welcomed dialogue could help bring an end to months of deadly clashes between pro-Russia separatists and Ukrainian forces in the country's southeast. But much depends on the actions of one man, Russian President Vladimir Putin. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Artists Shun Russia's Profanity Law

Russia in July enacted a law threatening fines for publicly displayed profanity in media, films, literature, music and theater. The restriction, the toughest since the Soviet era, aims to protect the Russian language and culture and has been welcomed by those who say cursing is getting out of control. But many artists reject the move as a patronizing and ineffective act of censorship in line with a string of conservative morality laws. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video British Fighters on Frontline of ISIS Information War

Security services are racing to identify the Islamic State militant who beheaded U.S. journalist James Foley in Syria. The murderer spoke English on camera with a British accent. It’s estimated that several hundred British citizens are fighting for the Islamic State, also called ISIL or ISIS, alongside thousands of other foreign jihadists. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from the center of the investigation in London.

AppleAndroid