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Space Science

Organic Matter Found In Canadian Meteorite 226

Posted by kdawson
from the seeding-gaia dept.
eldavojohn writes "From what sounds like the opening of an X-Files episode, Canadian scientists have reportedly found in a meteorite organic matter older than the sun at Tagish Lake in Canada. From the article: '"We mean that the material in the meteorite has been processed the least since it was formed. The material we see today is arguably the most representative of the material that first went into making up the solar system." The meteorite likely formed in the outer reaches of the asteroid belt, but the organic material it contains probably had a far more distant origin. The globules could have originated in the Kuiper Belt group of icy planetary remnants orbiting beyond Neptune. Or they could have been created even farther afield. The globules appear to be similar to the kinds of icy grains found in molecular clouds — the vast, low-density regions where stars collapse and form and new solar systems are born.' The article implies that life could potentially survive in these meteorites and maybe even travel through space — supporting the theory that life may have arrived on earth and evolved from that point on."
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Organic Matter Found In Canadian Meteorite

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  • by baffled (1034554) on Sunday December 03, 2006 @02:07PM (#17090802)
    No, apparently we're here.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 03, 2006 @02:09PM (#17090824)
    I for one welcome our new organic material evolved overlords. And by overlords, I mean us.
  • It actually sounds much more like Dan (Da Vinci Code) Brown's bad novel, "Deception Point."
    • by freefrag (728150) on Sunday December 03, 2006 @02:34PM (#17091068)

      Dan (Da Vinci Code) Brown's bad novel
      "Bad" implies that he has written good novels.
    • by owlnation (858981)
      It actually sounds much more like Dan (Da Vinci Code) Brown's bad novel, "Deception Point."
      He has good novels?
      • by value_added (719364) on Sunday December 03, 2006 @03:38PM (#17091664)
        He has good novels?

        LOL. True story:

        Recently, I was trying to chat up a very attractive girl. I mentioned in our harried conversation (she was at work) that I enjoyed reading but hadn't been to the bookstore in ages, blah blah. She told me that she, too, loved to read, and promised to bring in some of her favourites for me. Great, I thought! This could be the start of something interesting.

        A few days later I stop in to see her and she smiles and points to a small bag 'o books in the corner. How sweet, right? Well, inside the bag were 4 were Dan Brown novels. Cervantes I wasn't expecting, but Dan Brown? I tried reading one of them (maybe I was wrong about him), but the absence of any writing talent in combination with an absurd plot reminded so much of high school that all I could was groan and put the book back in the bag with the others.

        Haven't been back to see her since. It's been a month, but I wonder whether that's not long enough.
        • by Qzukk (229616) on Sunday December 03, 2006 @04:32PM (#17092096) Journal
          Cervantes I wasn't expecting

          Nobody expects the Spanish Author!
          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by Dabido (802599)
            NOBODY expects the Spanish Author! His chief weapon is surprise...surprise and fear...fear and surprise.... His two weapons are fear and surprise...and windmills.... Our *three* weapons are fear, surprise, and windmills...
        • by cyberon22 (456844) on Sunday December 03, 2006 @05:07PM (#17092360)
          Free books for you? That was really sweet of her.

          Perhaps you should have judged her by the act of giving rather than the gift. Rather than being condescending and judgmental (way to make her feel good, champ), you could have scored points and broadened her horizons by thinking about what she gave you and suggesting some other books she might have liked. Sounds like she likes shorter, punchier thrillers.

          I'd have given her Gaston Leroux's "Phantom of the Opera", the collected short stories and cartoons of James Thurber, and maybe something short by literary like Ondatjee's "Running in the Family". How on earth can you know she won't like what you like unless you let her read it?
          • by Redlazer (786403) * on Sunday December 03, 2006 @05:56PM (#17092780) Homepage
            You, sir. Are clearly not a virgin.

            Either that, or you must be new here.

            -Red

            (And you're totally right, by the way. WHo gives a crap if she has awful taste in books? That would be like turning a girl away casue she doesnt play video games, or worse, likes the PS3)

            • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

              by TheRaven64 (641858)

              That would be like turning a girl away casue she doesnt play video games,
              I was with you up to here...

              or worse, likes the PS3
              ...but you've got to have some standards.

            • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

              "or worse, likes the PS3"

              Turning a girl away because she likes PS3 may be a good thing. If she doesn't already have said console, she may expect you to buy it for her as a tribute. (Diamond earrings are cheaper)
          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by bdwebb (985489)
            The fact that "some of her favorites" included Dan Brown novels points to an obvious character flaw (well..at LEAST one) and a serious lack of intelligence. He made an accurate judgement call based upon the fact that he had never met someone previously who enjoyed a Dan Brown that didn't occasionally have fits of chest slapping/attempts to bite their own ear. While this may be a stereotype, and you are OBVIOUSLY the self-righteous asshole who says "Stereotypes are bad!! You should judge every person you
        • by StikyPad (445176)
          That (we men believe) women have terrible taste is neither surprising nor insightful, making your post not far removed from the novels you deride, although fortunately with a much smaller distribution.
        • by drsquare (530038) on Sunday December 03, 2006 @07:15PM (#17093372)
          I'm she'd have reacted in a similar way if she found out you read Slashdot.
        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Fleeced (585092)
          Wow... how wonderfully pretentious of you.

          She like books you don't? Geez, what a dumb bitch!
        • by johansalk (818687)
          I remember a girl who went on and on about how she liked "literature". I thought, "oh, at last, a smart girl". When I asked her what "literature" she liked she said "Harry Potter". I don't remember what the other ones were but all were similar to "Harry Potter" (LOTR too? can't remember). She got pretty pissed off them I said "that's not literature, that's entertainment".
        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Greg.Rodden (853800)
          OK so let me get this straight. You aren't going to give this "very attractive girl" the time of day because she likes Dan Brown novels.... and shes the idiot here.

          So did you happen to pick up 'Angels and Demons', brilliant story even if some of his chapters are only 2 pages long. Most of Dan Browns novels that i've read have an underlying love story where the educated hero ends up with the "very attractive girl"...

          If you ask me, YOU are the fool in THIS story who is so naive as to turn down the "very a
    • Just a warning, Dan Brown's "Digital Fortress" is especially BAD.
      I found Da Vinci tolerable because I don't know anything about the christian church but since Digital Fortress is about computers (which I and Slashdotters know about) it was excruciating.
      Set in modern times the description of the big computer make it sound more like a steam engine!
      Don't buy this book.
      • I agree heartily. Digital Fortress drove me nuts. I have to say, of the 3 Dan Brown books I've read, Angels and Demons was the best; I enjoyed it much more than Da Vinci Code.
  • Canadians! (Score:5, Funny)

    by jrwr00 (1035020) <jrwr00.gmail@com> on Sunday December 03, 2006 @02:17PM (#17090926) Homepage
    I knew it! Canadians are from outerspace!
  • by lupine_stalker (1000459) on Sunday December 03, 2006 @02:19PM (#17090946)
    I've seen this movie... the organisms evolve... then get sprayed with napalm while Canada gets a dose of Head and Shoulders... or was it the other way round?
    • No no, it's the story where an undiscernable color erupts from the rapidly dissipating and uncoolable meteorite, then begins eating away at everything, turning it an ashy gray color.
  • by CODiNE (27417) on Sunday December 03, 2006 @02:20PM (#17090954) Homepage
    From the article text :

    The structures are invisible to the naked eye and resemble minute hollow balls with carbon-rich shells. A chunk of meteorite no larger than a grape could contain a billion of the tiny globules.

    Theoretically, their hollow-ball shape could have presented a homey environment of concentrated organic matter where early cellular life could develop.

    Such theories boast little evidence but raise many intriguing questions.


    So from what I read they structures found COULD assist organic life, but are not actual evidence of them.
    • by osu-neko (2604) on Sunday December 03, 2006 @02:52PM (#17091248)

      So from what I read they structures found COULD assist organic life, but are not actual evidence of them.

      That's one point of view.

      There's a common myth that evidence speaks for itself. It doesn't. It just sits there on the lab table, incapable of speaking. Evidence also neither supports nor refutes any theory, these also being things evidence is incapable of doing unless the evidence is itself sentient. You're anthropomorphizing the evidence when you claim it supports or refutes a theory.

      Now, various interpretations of the evidence can be used by scientists to support or refute theories. Insofar as some scientists interpret this evidence in such a way that it allows them to argue for ET-assisted biogenesis, it is evidence for that. Of course, some scientists will interpret it differently and then it won't be evidence for that.

      All this is perfectly fine. Just don't make the mistake the quoted poster made, where you think there's a fact of the matter about whether this actually is or isn't evidence for one theory or another. Science doesn't work that way, that's just perpetuating a myth.

      • by khallow (566160)

        There's a common myth that evidence speaks for itself. It doesn't. It just sits there on the lab table, incapable of speaking. Evidence also neither supports nor refutes any theory, these also being things evidence is incapable of doing unless the evidence is itself sentient. You're anthropomorphizing the evidence when you claim it supports or refutes a theory.

        Can there be problems with anthropomorphizing physical phenomena? Of course? Is it a bad idea? No. The human being is capable of a lot of elabora

        • "Is it a bad idea? No."

          It is when it only serves to cloud the public's perception of the scientific method, introduce misconceptions that hamper the acceptance of well supported theories and foster incorrect reasoning enabling charlatans and junk science to take advantage of the fact that the general public aren't aware that "the respective analogies only go so far".

          The fact that anthropomorphisation can made certain complex ideas easier to digest does not mean that it is always a good idea. And the c
      • by zCyl (14362)

        There's a common myth that evidence speaks for itself. It doesn't. It just sits there on the lab table, incapable of speaking. Evidence also neither supports nor refutes any theory, these also being things evidence is incapable of doing unless the evidence is itself sentient. You're anthropomorphizing the evidence when you claim it supports or refutes a theory.

        *scratches head* So am I anthropomorphizing my table leg when I claim that it supports the table?

        Evidence can, of its own accord, support or refute

    • by mapkinase (958129)
      Using the same logic, buckyballs are organic matter too: (a) they are made of carbon (b) they are, well, balls.
  • Keep in mind... (Score:5, Informative)

    by RyanFenton (230700) on Sunday December 03, 2006 @02:23PM (#17090968)
    Keep in mind that organic does NOT = life, just a precursor to life. Organic molecules/matter are generally just molecules containing carbon and hydrogen making a chainlike skeleton of atoms, with oxygen and/or nitrogen depending on if it is a protein. (Source [biology-online.org]). This DOES back up the hypothesis that organic molecules can form just as well outside of early earth, as in. It'll be interesting to hear just what the molecules were, but I doubt this will spawn any new theories about the extra-solar genesis of life on earth. It doesn't take special space-dust to provide organic compounds in the early earth - just the atoms from the life cycle of stars spreading heavier elements.

    Ryan Fenton
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Ruff_ilb (769396)
      And heck, there's not any definitive proof that I know of that organisms have to be primarily carbon-based. Sure, it makes the most sense given the properties of the carbon atom, but it would be theoretically possible to have an organism based on something else.
      • Also carbon was very common in the early formation of the universe according to most big bang models. So carbon based lifeforms, while only one possibility, are probably the most likely.
      • As a chemist I have to concede that carbon has some very unique properties, properties that don't exist in other places in the periodic table, but I'm still not convinced that life has to be carbon based. Most of colleges disagree with me, especially biologists, but there is a lot of stuff that we don't know about.
      • by StikyPad (445176)
        Silicone based life walks among us.
  • by ZeroExistenZ (721849) on Sunday December 03, 2006 @02:27PM (#17091004)
    "What's really striking about this is that these globules clearly could not possibly have formed where [the meteorite] itself formed," Messenger said.

    Does that mean the meteorite pulverized some ancient astronouts in a far away galaxy?


    THAT might be the reason we haven't gotten contact yet with them; they would've cancelled their space project after such a PR-disaster...

  • by Tibor the Hun (143056) on Sunday December 03, 2006 @02:28PM (#17091016)
    Does this mean we're all Canadians!!!?

    NOOOOOOOO
  • Earth didnt just appear out of nothingness... it had to get its organic compound from somewhere!

    Hence "nothing is created, nothing is lost, all is transformed".

    Still, it's pretty cool to have a piece of hard evidence to back up an obvious explanation.

  • Andromeda Strain [imdb.com] comes to life?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 03, 2006 @02:43PM (#17091144)
    Organic matter has been found in meteorites decades ago.
  • Canadian scientists discovered a black, oily substance inside a meteorite...agh...ah...agh...act normally and await further instructions.

    The truth is out there, aye.

    • by mnmn (145599)
      Nice sig.

      Its Genghis Khan (really: Chinggis Khan) , and he fell off a horse, not a pony.
      • You're right about the spelling, backed up by Wikipedia [wikipedia.org]. Corrected as noted.

        But I've seen steppe horses in real life and despite being tough, sure footed and strong, they're still ponies in my book. Your legs almost drag on the ground.

  • Panspermia (Score:4, Interesting)

    by symbolset (646467) on Sunday December 03, 2006 @02:50PM (#17091236) Journal

    Attributed to Anaxagoras ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anaxagoras [wikipedia.org] ) in the 5th century BCE. Basically the idea the precursors to life are everywhere in the universe, allowing that life on earth may have sprung from this source.

    It seems plausible. This evidence doesn't prove it though.

    FTA:

    The structures are invisible to the naked eye and resemble minute hollow balls with carbon-rich shells. A chunk of meteorite no larger than a grape could contain a billion of the tiny globules.

    Fullerene? That would explain a lot about the persistence of these structures through the process of transport and reentry.

    Disclaimer: "God moves in mysterious ways His wonders to perform." - William Cowper ( for varying values of "God", "mysterious", "wonders" - symbolset )

  • so what? (Score:2, Funny)

    by stachu trawki (974003)
    Methane (CH4) found for example in vast quantities on the most outer planet, Plutonium, is also an organic compound. But it does not mean that there is, or has ever been, life. First, we need to know when compound it was. Otherwise there's really nothing to talk about.
  • by Meltir (891449) on Sunday December 03, 2006 @02:56PM (#17091280) Homepage
    Im actually interested, how do you measure the age of an object so old, when its not from earth ?
    I mean the amount of radioactive materials that fall apart a thousand or so years after being 'inserted' into a certain object is valid only if we know the amount on the env surrounding it.
    How do we know how old this thing is without actually being sure where it came from ?

    Maybe there was less of the izotope in the env. ?
    Or maybe there was much, much more of it ?

    This is besides the point if the rock actually contains some fossilized life forms, if its a billion years younger or older, then this fact makes a pretty big difference, right ?

    I understand that the age of stars can be measured by the spectrum (iirc, as light travels further/longer it leans towards one of the edges).

    I also get how we can determine how we check the basic building block of an object a milion light years away by the light spectrum too.

    But the age, when we are not really sure of the exact amount of izotopes in the env. ?

    Could somebody educate this fool with a friendly wikipedia link ?
    • by Bemopolis (698691) on Sunday December 03, 2006 @03:58PM (#17091820)
      First, just to whip out my creds I have a doctorate in astronomy, although not in this sub-field...

      The typical way to set an age of a very old object is, as you note, by looking at its radioactive decay history. A good chronometer for meteorites is uranium, both U238 and U235. They have different decay rates, so the difference between the starting and ending abundance ratio of the two gives you the age. As you note, the trick is to determine what the starting ratio is; this is largely an educated guess, but presumably the population seen in the meteorite was created in the same supernova explosion, so a little nuclear physics tells you what that should be (Google 'neutron drip line'). A good check on the result is to also look at the isotope ratio of lead: Pb207 is the daughter of U238 decay, and Pb206 the daughter of U235. There are several other useful decays to check (Al26 comes to mind), so while it's admittedly a house of cards (but so is everything in astronomy, really) , it is at least more than one card.

      And, not to be critical, but your description of determining the ages of stars is...off. To be fair, it is a difficult method to both explain and perform for individual stars.
  • by Doc Ruby (173196) on Sunday December 03, 2006 @03:21PM (#17091496) Homepage Journal
    What kind of "news" story makes such a big deal out of such a fundamentally important claim - "organic matter older than the Sun found in Canadian meteorites", but doesn't say exactly what makes these "globules" qualify as "organic"? The only details about the claimed "organic" matter are that they "resemble minute hollow balls with carbon-rich shells", where "minute" is vaguely implied to be smaller than 10 um^3. (a billionth the volume of a grape).

    There's more info detailing that the Yukon is cold and unpopulated than any info about how this carbon is "organic".

    In fact, practically all carbon on the Earth is older than the Sun. Carbon is produced in the cores of unusually massive stars, then distributed across the Universe after the star explodes in supernova or similarly huge cataclysm. Just composition of carbon, and the other "organic" elements (nitrogen, oxygen and hydrogen) essential to Earth organic chemistry, doesn't make these tiny grains accurately called "organic globules".

    Maybe actual science, written by an actual journalist, could report the more important facts behind this sensational headline.
  • by Yvanhoe (564877) on Sunday December 03, 2006 @03:53PM (#17091792) Journal
    A Canadian meteorite, dating from the formation of the solar system, has been found in Canada. Like many other meteorites, it contains organic matters. The article doesn't state it, but it is probably something akin to amino acids. Apparently, it is the first time this organic matter is found in spherical bubbles, that the original article misleadingly calls "globules". As usual, the article is light on technical details but heavy on wild crazy sensationalist extrapolation. The journalist would like to make believe that cells could have existed on these meteorites but unfortunately has strictly no evidence of this.

    "The structures are invisible to the naked eye and resemble minute hollow balls with carbon-rich shells. A chunk of meteorite no larger than a grape could contain a billion of the tiny globules.

    Theoretically, their hollow-ball shape could have presented a homey environment of concentrated organic matter where early cellular life could develop.

    Such theories boast little evidence but raise many intriguing questions. " (emphasis mine)
    • by Legion303 (97901)
      "Apparently, it is the first time this organic matter is found in spherical bubbles, that the original article misleadingly calls 'globules'. As usual, the article is light on technical details but heavy on wild crazy sensationalist extrapolation."

      The term "globules" is used in the _Science_ article (not the linked National Geographic one) so much that it appears to be a technical term--I'm not familiar with chemistry.

      The speculation that life could have arrived on earth via Meteorite Express came from the
  • I wouldn't believe the dating results for these types of things. There is a big problem with trying to date asteroids, meteorites and such.

    Absolute dating assumes that isotopes degrade in a purely statistical manner. There is reason to believe, however, that changes in electromagnetic bombardment of an isotope can affect the decay of those isotopes. Using a simple experimental apparatus, decay rates can be correlated with the phases of the moon, the motions of the Sun and the stars. Go to http://www.21s [21stcentur...cetech.com]
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by uid7306m (830787)
      Uh, you're a bit confused.

      Carbon-13 dating does indeed need corrections for the level of solar activity,
      but that's a bit of an exception. The corrections don't have *anything*
      to do with how fast the Carbon-13 decays, though: they relate to how much
      C-13 is in the atmosphere.

      The way it works is like this:

      Carbon-13 decays in about 5000 years. Why do we still have some around then?
      That's because it's constantly being made as cosmic rays hit the upper atmosphere
      of the earth. Now, as a tree grows, it in
    • "This of course causes all sorts of problems for archaeology, geology and astronomy, and this fact alone might induce a lot of scientists to want to look the other way. So, I wouldn't expect a lot of curiosity on these things so long as they pose such a threat to research that has already been done."

      AFAIK scientists spend a considerable amount of time looking for interesting problems, there is very little glory to be found in confirming the status-quo. It's also a good idea to actually understand the sta
  • by stunt_penguin (906223) on Sunday December 03, 2006 @04:33PM (#17092098)
    Surely finding organic compounds should change the name of a meteorite to a meateorite. Yummy!
  • by Nethead (1563)
    So we can nuke Tagish Lake like in the movie [imdb.com]?
  • by Myria (562655) on Sunday December 03, 2006 @05:29PM (#17092548)
    Certainly, organic molecules are required for life as we know it. But there are many other possibilities.

    Why do we assume that there is no life in some place we can't explore, like inside the Sun? Certainly there is no life there based on complex carbon molecules. However, what excludes the possibility of life based on such other mechanism?
  • NEWS FLASH (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Dan East (318230) on Sunday December 03, 2006 @08:13PM (#17093854) Homepage Journal
    Chemical reactions can occur in places other than Earth.

    Dan East
  • by Ten24 (974324)
    ...This means no Pesticides, right?
  • by ChaoticLimbs (597275) on Sunday December 03, 2006 @11:00PM (#17094976) Journal
    In chemistry, "organic matter" refers to hydrocarbons.

C'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas l'Informatique. -- Bosquet [on seeing the IBM 4341]

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