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Icy comet collisions can produce building blocks of life

Last Updated: Monday, September 16, 2013 - 10:33

Washington: A new study suggests that the building blocks of life can spontaneously come into existence when icy comets smash into planets.

Scientists have discovered a "cosmic factory" for producing the building blocks of life, amino acids, in the research.

The team from Imperial College London, the University of Kent and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have discovered that when icy comets collide into a planet, amino acids can be produced.

These essential building blocks are also produced if a rocky meteorite crashes into a planet with an icy surface.

The researchers suggest that this process provides another piece to the puzzle of how life was kick-started on Earth, after a period of time between 4.5 and 3.8 billion years ago when the planet had been bombarded by comets and meteorites.

"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. 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," Dr Zita Martins, co-author of the paper from the Department of Earth Science and Engineering at Imperial College London, said.

The abundance of ice on the surfaces of Enceladus and Europa, which are moons orbiting Saturn and Jupiter respectively, could provide a perfect environment for the production of amino acids, when meteorites crash into their surface, say the researchers.

The researchers discovered that when a comet impacts on a world it creates a shock wave that generates molecules that make up amino acids. The impact of the shock wave also generates heat, which then transforms these molecules into amino acids.

The study is published in the journal Nature Geoscience.


First Published: Monday, September 16, 2013 - 10:33

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