Thursday, July 22, 2021

Ancient meteorite may reveal how life formed on Earth and more secrets of the Solar System

The ancient rock is a rare example of carbonaceous chondrite, a type of meteorite that often contains biological material.

A 4.6 billion-year-old meteorite found in the footprint of a horseshoe appears to be a remnant from the birth of the Solar System and could hide the keys to one of humanity's greatest mysteries: the origin of life on Earth.

It was discovered by Derek Robson of the East Anglian Astrophysical Research Organization (EAARO) in a Gloucestershire field in February this year, after traveling more than 110 million miles from its primordial home between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter in the Asteroid Belt.

Together with colleagues at EAARO, the researchers are using techniques such as electron microscopy to study surface morphology at the micrometer and nanometer scale; and vibrational spectroscopy and X-ray diffraction, which provide detailed information on chemical structure, phase and polymorphism, crystallinity, and molecular interactions, to determine structure and composition.

Meteorite reveals secrets of the Solar System

So far, they have found that the incredibly delicate sample, which resembles loose concrete particles and dust, never suffered the violent cosmic collisions that most ancient space debris experienced when colliding to create the planets and moons of our solar system.

"The internal structure is brittle and loose, porous with fissures and cracks," Shaun Fowler, a specialist in optical and electron microscopy at the Loughborough Materials Characterization Center (LMCC), said in a statement.

"It does not appear to have undergone a thermal metamorphosis, which means that it has been there beyond Mars, intact, since before any of the planets were created, which means that we have the rare opportunity to examine a part of our primordial past. ".

A one-of-a-kind meteorite

The bulk of the meteorite is composed of minerals such as olivine and phyllosilicates, with other mineral inclusions called chondrules, which, for example, can be minerals such as magnetite or calcite.

"But the composition is unlike anything you would find here on Earth and potentially different from any other meteorite we have encountered, possibly containing some previously unknown chemical or physical structure never before seen in other recorded samples."

The ancient rock is a rare example of carbonaceous chondrite, a type of meteorite that often contains biological material. Less than 5% of the meteorites that fall to Earth belong to this classification.

The identification of organic compounds would support the idea that the first meteorites carried amino acids, the building blocks of life, to supply the primordial soup of Earth where life began.

"Carbonaceous chondrites contain organic compounds, including amino acids, found in all living things," said EAARO Director of Astrochemistry Derek Robson, who found the meteorite and will soon be joining Loughborough University as an academic visitor. for collaborative research.

"Being able to identify and confirm the presence of such compounds from a material that existed before the birth of the Earth would be an important step towards understanding how life began"


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