Amino acids have been found in remote space bodies before—including a carbon-rich meteor—and lend support to the idea that life on Earth was "seeded" by chemicals rained down from space on our young planet. But a new discovery of amino acids inside a meteorite where they really shouldn't belong is a major find, possibly more significant in terms of finding extra-terrestrial life than NASA's recent revelations about arsenic-based life found in Mono lake here on Earth.
The meteorite crashed into the Sudanese desert, but came from Asteroid 2008 TC3. It contains minerals that strongly suggest it was formed in a violent collision between two asteroids, which probably raised the temperature of the rock to way over 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit for a long period, erasing any life-like chemistry that the asteroids may have had beforehand. But when the meteorite samples were analyzed 19 different amino acids were found in its make-up, in tiny amounts, and the possibility that they are Earthly contaminants has been ruled out.
This means that there may be a new, alternative, method for making amino acids in space. Previously it was thought liquid water and cooler temperatures were needed, but now it's suggested that amino acids could be made under very hot conditions when space-collisions result in a mix of temperatures and chemistry.
In its way, this discovery is every bit as significant as Felisa Wolfe-Simon's arsenic-based bacteria are. NASA used this discovery to imply that alien life could exist in places where we hadn't thought possible before, which massively boosts the chances that E.T. is out there, somewhere. But the theory that comets can seed planets with the chemicals necessary to make life just got a huge boost from this new asteroid-meteorite find, which implies amino acids may be far more ubiquitous than previously thought. Plus this new find is much less controversial than the arsenic bacteria, which is currently embroiled in a global debate about the validity of the science.
The take-away is that life may be found in more places in the universe than we'd ever thought it could be—including in places in our own solar system.
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