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Space Science

Meteorite Contains Complex Organic Molecules 106

Posted by Soulskill
from the fun-with-space-rocks dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Previously unknown organic molecules have been discovered in a 100 kg meteorite that hit Australia in 1969, suggesting that our early Solar System contained a soup of highly complex organic chemistry long before life appeared. Quoting: 'According to [the study's lead author], the newly discovered compounds in the Murchison meteorite "may have contributed to the organic complexity of the early 'soup' that led to the development of life on Earth." The findings also suggest that extraterrestrial chemical diversity surpasses that found on Earth. The meteor probably passed through primordial clouds in the early solar system, accumulating organic molecules in a snowball effect along the way. By tracing the sequence of organic molecules in the meteorite, researchers believe they may also be able to create a timeline for their formation and alteration since the early days of our solar system.'"
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Meteorite Contains Complex Organic Molecules

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  • I for one (Score:3, Funny)

    by koreaman (835838) <uman@umanwizard.com> on Tuesday February 16, 2010 @10:18AM (#31155348)

    welcome our new meteor-dwelling overlords.

    • by adosch (1397357)
      Could it be that Futurama is becoming reality? It's only a matter of evolutionary time before that chemical blob morphs into Yivo [wikia.com], and not only becomes a meteor-dwelling overlord, but our planet-sized, tentacled, omnipotent alien overlord that controls us all!
    • Look at the world today. Perhaps we are ex-meteor-dwelling overlords.
    • by steelfood (895457)

      This finding can only mean one thing: Space dolphins passed by billions of years ago, dropped some bricks behind, and we resulted.

  • Before we get all excited about finding "organic" material in space rocks, it's important to remember that organic doesn't really mean anything unless it is certified by the government. There is a battery of tests and criteria that must be passed before anything can truly be referred to as organic.

    I doubt anyone has certified a ROCK from OUTER SPACE as anything but a space rock. You can't eat it anyway, so there really isn't any reason to get it certified organic.

  • by Orga (1720130) on Tuesday February 16, 2010 @10:23AM (#31155404)
    A passing space cruise liner flushing passenger waste as it passed our primordial solar system injected the base complex organic molecules needed to form life on our planet.
  • A giant rock has been on Earth for forty years, and just now they're discovering that it's contains organic compounds? Um...did it fall directly into a controlled vacuum?

    • by IndustrialComplex (975015) on Tuesday February 16, 2010 @10:44AM (#31155634)

      A giant rock has been on Earth for forty years, and just now they're discovering that it's contains organic compounds? Um...did it fall directly into a controlled vacuum?

      If you find organic molecules which do not exist on Earth OTHER than on this meteorite, the likely conclusion is that the meteorite is the source, not the recipient.

      • A giant rock has been on Earth for forty years, and just now they're discovering that it's contains organic compounds? Um...did it fall directly into a controlled vacuum?

        If you find organic molecules which do not exist on Earth OTHER than on this meteorite, the likely conclusion is that the meteorite is the source, not the recipient.

        I saw that movie, it had Fox Mulder innit, and he shot a dragon! :)

      • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

        by idontgno (624372)

        If you find organic molecules which do not exist on Earth

        And you know this with scientific certainty because... you've analyzed every organic molecule on Earth?

        That certainly must have taken a long time

        FWIW, I don't remember when you stopped by to sample my organic molecules.

    • by eleuthero (812560)
      I have often wondered how this worked with the "martian" asteroids. The news articles never explained why the scientists involved were certain they came from Mars and why the bacteria in them had to have come from there - the answers to your post are somewhat helpful but I would still like to understand the methods behind it all a bit better.
      • by sonnejw0 (1114901)
        Could be wrong, but I think the martial meteorites (not asteroids, wiktionary that if you don't know why), were fossilized bacterial cells that were fossilized within the martian rock, which has a different composition than any rock on earth (due to its distance from the primordial sun during planet formation).

        This article claims complex organic molecules that they do not name, which means they might not have a common chemical name and no one cares about IUPAC nomenclature. I would assume the chemicals wer
        • by eleuthero (812560)
          Thank you - and like most lay people, asteroids tend to be my way of referring to any rock from outer space (though I do know that is not technically true). Your explanation on the rock origination was most helpful.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by thrawn_aj (1073100)
          To build on your point, I read the same story yesterday (could be the same source, I don't recall) and their work is based on mass spectrometry only (from the vague, unscientific, dumbed down crap that finally makes it to the popular press so I could be wrong). Essentially, they would crush a small sample of the meteorite, analyze it for known compounds/elements (dunno what instruments they use) and infer the composition. Their spokesperson also mentioned that their instruments aren't sensitive to every sin
  • Really? (Score:5, Funny)

    by mujadaddy (1238164) on Tuesday February 16, 2010 @10:28AM (#31155470)
    The Murchison meteorite contains complex organic molecules – including carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen and sulphur.

    Molecules do not work that way!

    TFA is short on details.

    Again, TFA: Now, for the first time, scientists have used advanced analytical methods to conduct a non-targeted experiment....wtf?
  • by rubycodez (864176) on Tuesday February 16, 2010 @10:30AM (#31155490)

    Looking at better news sources, one finds the scientists found over 14,000 organic compounds which contained (besides carbon), the hydrogen, sulfur, nitrogen, etc. None of those things by themselves constitutes an organic substance. Do kids even study chemistry in high school anymore?

    • by Bowling Moses (591924) on Tuesday February 16, 2010 @11:49AM (#31156326) Journal
      With a few exceptions like carbonates, cyanide salts, or allotropes of carbon (graphite, diamond, buckyball, etc), if it contains carbon it's an organic molecule. Since there aren't all that many molecules that meet these exceptions it's pretty safe to apply the rule: they found a crapload of different organic molecules.

      A different news writeup (the actual paper isn't available yet on PNAS, not even online) says millions of compounds, including 70 different amino acids. It'll be interesting as details unfold.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by FleaPlus (6935)

        A different news writeup (the actual paper isn't available yet on PNAS, not even online) says millions of compounds, including 70 different amino acids. It'll be interesting as details unfold.

        The abstract is up now:

        http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2010/02/12/0912157107.abstract [pnas.org]

        High molecular diversity of extraterrestrial organic matter in Murchison meteorite revealed 40 years after its fall

        Numerous descriptions of organic molecules present in the Murchison meteorite have improved our understanding of the early interstellar chemistry that operated at or just before the birth of our solar system. However, all molecular analyses were so far targeted toward selected classes of compounds with a particular emphasis on biologically active components in the context of prebiotic chemistry. Here we demonstrate that a nontargeted ultrahigh-resolution molecular analysis of the solvent-accessible organic fraction of Murchison extracted under mild conditions allows one to extend its indigenous chemical diversity to tens of thousands of different molecular compositions and likely millions of diverse structures. This molecular complexity, which provides hints on heteroatoms chronological assembly, suggests that the extraterrestrial chemodiversity is high compared to terrestrial relevant biological- and biogeochemical-driven chemical space.

    • by Inda (580031)
      I didn't RTFA because I read it here the other day: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/8516319.stm

      I thought it was informative.
  • Well the thought of the building blocks for life to have just "formed" on earth is too far fetched. This just helps solidify that earth was somehow seeded by meteorites long before life started and that is where life started up from i believe. It just makes more sense. Also once you do the math as to how many galaxies there are just in the visible portion of the sky, it just becomes even more realistic that we are not alone, but space is just so big that we pretty much are alone in our tiny sector of the Ga
    • Re:organic sources (Score:5, Informative)

      by CyberBill (526285) on Tuesday February 16, 2010 @10:47AM (#31155670)
      "Well the thought of the building blocks for life to have just "formed" on earth is too far fetched."

      Why is it far fetched? We've generated nearly every one of the bases of RNA and DNA in conditions that mimic the early Earth - Some from experiments like the Miller-Urey Experiment [wikipedia.org] created a whole slew of different organic compounds, and more recent studies have shown the synthesis of an amino acid resulting from exposure to ultra-violet light (I believe it was uracil?) - showing that there are many many different ways to create complex organic compounds.
      • There is a difference between forcing a monkey smash every letter of the alphabet on a keyboard, including some chance words up to 8-letters in length, and having a monkey voluntarily type out all of the works of Shakespeare, in the order they were written by Shakespeare, and then turn the typewriter into a primitive compiler, using only the information he typed; a compiler (using a language that is much more intricate, error-resolving, and efficient than any of our own) that starts building walking librari
        • In "bucket chemistry" it is not uncommon to have the following situation:

          BEGIN CAR ANALOGY:

          1) Take a large cement mixer, fill it will enough loose components to manually assemble 10,000 automobiles.
          2) Agitate, heat, compress and cool the "mixture" while adding a few more components and some tools at appropriate times.... continue for a loooong time...
          3) dump resulting mixture through a car-philyic filtering process....
          4) not-cars are washed away; leaving a two or three fully assembled cars.
          5) Wash. Rinse.

      • by primenerd (100899)

        Good of you to bring up the Miller-Urey experiments. Those experiments and subsequent ones with different atmospheric conditions have demonstrated how easy it is to create complex organic molecules under fairly common conditions (common in a cosmic sense).

        Uracil is not an amino acid, it is a pyrimidine. Very necessary for RNA and life, but not an amino acid.

      • by famebait (450028)
        AOL.

        The thing that always bothered me about pansperima and related theories is that, while exciting, they depend on the premise that there must be a certain concentration of places out in space that are better suited for generating life or its basic compunds than here on earth. I have a hard time imagining such a place, and have yet to see any of the proponents describe even the rudimentary properties of such a place would need to have.

        I find much more encouragement in recent theories (as described rece

        • The thing that always bothered me about pansperima and related theories is that, while exciting, they depend on the premise that there must be a certain concentration of places out in space that are better suited for generating life or its basic compunds than here on earth. I have a hard time imagining such a place, and have yet to see any of the proponents describe even the rudimentary properties of such a place would need to have.

          Is it so difficult to imagine that our little patch of galactic sky has had it's share of Pandoras, Endors, Degobahs, Earths, etc... that have bloomed, and become utterly saturated in organic mass?

          Would it also be much of a stretch to imagine that some meaningful fraction of such moldy boulders might get shattered by other less interesting rocks?

          Would it be too much to expect that some get slung out of orbit, or turned into a ~0.1*c shotgun-blast of interstellar gravel when their local star takes 'The Big

    • Re:organic sources (Score:5, Informative)

      by vlm (69642) on Tuesday February 16, 2010 @11:17AM (#31155984)

      Well the thought of the building blocks for life to have just "formed" on earth is too far fetched.

      Basically you're promoting "vitalism"

      Organic chemistry dropped vitalism around 1828 more or less due to Wohler synthesis.

      Looks like biology still hasn't made that advance yet, OR your belief is a bit out of date, out of step with modern bio beliefs.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wohler_synthesis [wikipedia.org]

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vitalism [wikipedia.org]

    • Well the thought of the building blocks for life to have just "formed" on earth is too far fetched.

      Why is it so hard to imagine organic molecules forming on Earth, if they for on asteroids (or wherever the meteorite came from), and, for that matter, in deep space [nrao.edu]?

      I agree with your suggestion that we're probably not alone, though.

      • I should have worded it a bit differently, what i mean its more of a possibility that the key ingredients to form those essential building blocks for life, may have come from elsewhere in the solar system/galaxy. One thing we know is our planet gets showered with meteorites on almost a daily basis, most of which are just so small we cant see them. Then again its know that earth used to have a sister and both collided to form our current earth, and the leftover debris is what formed our moon, its more possib
  • by T Murphy (1054674) on Tuesday February 16, 2010 @10:33AM (#31155532) Journal
    I tried to explain on another website how this means life may have come to earth from space, and the only response I got was someone pointing out how I'm an idiot because this meteor is only from 40 years ago. He must be right, given no one would call someone an idiot when he himself is the idiot, so I must inform all of you panspermia is wrong and you should be ashamed of yourselves for believing it.
    • I think life came from space, and did not originate here on this planet. I have just come to accept that there is more at play than any human can understand at the moment, and probably won't be understood for a very long time. I also believe that all religions (in general) might have stemmed up from something else all together, someone passes a story on and changes it when he tells it to someone else, the process repeats itself until you have several different version of the same story (all religions have
  • by meekg (30651) on Tuesday February 16, 2010 @10:43AM (#31155622) Homepage

    "The Murchison meteorite landed near a town of the same name... "

    What are the odds for THAT happening?!

  • by circletimessquare (444983) <<moc.liamg> <ta> <erauqssemitelcric>> on Tuesday February 16, 2010 @10:43AM (#31155626) Homepage Journal

    if, as we sample more planetary, asteroid, and interstellar matter, that we simply find RNA everywhere?

    that RNA simply permeates the entire universe: in the oort cloud, on europa, on ceres, in interstellar dust, in the data sent back to from probes to other stars/ exoplanets, etc

    that life is not unique to earth, and that life is pretty much inevitable wherever the conditions are right. we got used to the fact that earth is not the center of the universe, and then that our star isn't even that notable. as we discover more exoplanets, we'e beginning to come to grips with the ho hum mundane facts of the existence of millions of planets. yet right now we operate on the assumption life on earth is this rare unique thing native to here. really?

    and then the question would be: why RNA everywhere? how long has this been going on? where did it start? or for all practical purposes has it always been so and the ubiquity of panspermic RNA makes it pretty much a pat cosmological fact without discoverable cause or reason?

    it would be a pretty awesome intersection of; astronomy, cosmology, theology, biology, and even mathematics/ physics/ information technologythat complexity is simply inevitable, and that information storage and retrieval is an emergent phenomenon intrinsic to the way physical laws inexorably play out... and that this is "God". deus ex machina

    and it's entirely possible, as we keep looking

    ok, sorry, i'll put down the marijuana. dude: have you ever looked at your hand? l mean REALLY look at your HAND

    • that we simply find RNA everywhere?

      There have been alot of stupid asses in the universe blowing themselves up. We just collect the last piece of their asploded civilization.

      THIS COULD BE YOU!! IF YOU DONT RECYCLE! THE METEORITES ARE A WARNING!!!

      • judging by the level of alcohol found in that meteorite we can not rule out the possibility of landing on the head of a stray biker.
    • Don't confuse how life arose on Earth with how it may have evolved elsewhere. It's unlikely that RNA is the universal carrier for genetic information.
      • life can of course evolve in a myriad ways, and rna might very well be unique to earth alone

        however, what if the rna template for retrieval/ storage is actually just floating out there, everywhere, ubiquitously? the earth, and all celestial bodies, are constantly seeded from/ seeding everything else

        you say "It's unlikely that RNA is the universal carrier for genetic information". how can you be certain? you'd have to tell me for certain there is no rna floating out there, and that rna can only possibly have

        • BTW - DNA is the storage mechanism in life - RNA is used in a step for transcription. It is hypothesised that rna used to the primary storage method before but this is still up in the air.

          As for whether its universal - that depends on how many other molecules exist that could potentially fill the role that is played by dna. All life needs a way of storing information in a durable way (with about 1 defect/offspring if you want good evolvability). If it turns out the dna is the only way of doing this prope
          • If it turns out the dna is the only way of doing this properly (or the best way) then we would expect to see it everywhere there is life. For all we know there could have been a number of competitor systems but DNA won hands down due to its superior properties and/or ease of evolutionary access - in which case we can expect it to be ubiquitous as well. This is basically a variation of the contingency vs inevitability argument.

            A key point might be made that DNA works for the regime WE evolved in. It works when you are 8 light minutes away from a yellow star and have a fairly substantial atmosphere of hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen.

            It's far less clear what will work under a less forgiving regime.

            What goes on with organics in Jupiter's or Saturn's atmosphere, at say 5 - 20 atmospheres?

            What about the more sheltered locations on Venus or Mercury?

            Maybe not much...

            We have hundreds to thousands of years of planetary study yet to accomp

    • by Nazlfrag (1035012)

      'I refuse to prove that I exist,' says God, 'for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing.'

      'But,' says Man, 'The Murchison meteorite is a dead giveaway, isn't it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don't. QED.'

      'Oh dear,' says God, 'I hadn’t thought of that,' and promptly vanished in a puff of logic.

      They call them fingers but I've never seen them fing... wait, there they go.

    • by famebait (450028)
      If life is pretty much inevitable wherever the conditions are right, why resort to space-faring RNA to explain life here on earth?
    • not a chemistry major here, but from what I know RNA has a greater instability than DNA. This is most of the time a problem in biological experiments. So I would be curious to find an ( scientific) answer to how come RNA can survive the harsh conditions of outer space plus harsh conditions of a meteorite impact/landing?
  • Published??? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Pedrito (94783) on Tuesday February 16, 2010 @10:45AM (#31155642) Homepage
    From TFA: ...according to the study published in the U.S. Journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    I'm going on the assumption that "published" implies past tense. As in, done. Yet, a search of PNAS finds no connection between the quoted author Philippe Schmitt-Kopplin and the word "Murchison" appearing ANYWHERE in the text of an article. And since no title is mentioned and no other authors are mentioned, I'm not really sure what to say.

    I mean, I suppose it's possible PNAS completely screwed up somehow. I tried matching just the guy's first name, just his last name. He has written for PNAS in the past. He's written three articles on wine. That's quite a jump, from wine to meteorites.

    I'm not saying it's not there. I just can't find it among the 81 PNAS articles on the Murchison meteorite.
    • by Kingleon (1399145)
      Hold your horses! I've discovered in the past that news articles about PNAS articles generally appear a week before the actual article can be found on the PNAS website.
    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      You internet fu is weak.

      Original article.

      http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2010/02/12/0912157107.abstract

  • Article in February Scientific American says latest astronomical research shows that Titan has sand deserts where the grains are complex organic molecules. (a great place for a vacation - deserts of bituminous sand, littered with rocks made of water ice, and with occasional heavy methane showers. )
  • Welcome our dark, smudgy, foul smelling organic overlords.

    Oh wait, that's who's been here for millennia already. Damn. Damn. Damn!

  • or it whacked a dinosaur.
  • The author of the original article clearly doesn't understand what a molecule is, and the article is not very informative.

    Does anyone have an actual link to a scientific article about this ? ArXiv would do just fine.

  • ...organic does not equal building block of life. Because it’s <John Cleese> [youtube.com]just one way... just one way... </John Cleese> [youtube.com] life can evolve.

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