Friday, December 01, 2006

 

NASA Scientists Find Primordial Organic Matter in Tagish Lake Meteorite

NASA researchers at Johnson Space Center, Houston have found organic materials that formed in the most distant reaches of the early Solar System preserved in a unique meteorite. The study was performed on the Tagish Lake carbonaceous chondrite, a rare type of meteorite that is rich in organic (carbon-bearing) compounds.

Organic matter in meteorites is a subject of intense interest because this material formed at the dawn of the Solar System and may have seeded the early Earth with the building blocks of life. The Tagish Lake meteorite (info) is especially valuable for this work because much of it was collected immediately after its fall over Canada in 2000 and has been maintained in a frozen state, minimizing terrestrial contamination. The collection and curation of the meteorite samples preserved its pristine state.

In a paper published in the December 1 issue of the journal Science, the team, headed by NASA space scientist Keiko Nakamura-Messenger, reports that the Tagish Lake meteorite contains numerous submicrometer hollow organic globules.

'Similar objects have been reported from several meteorites since the 60's. Some scientists believed these were space organisms, but others thought they were just terrestrial contamination,' said Nakamura-Messenger. The same bubble-like organic globules appeared in this freshest meteorite ever received from space. 'But in the past, there was no way to determine for sure where these organic globules came from because they were simply too small. They are only 1/10,000 inch in size or less.'

Continued at "NASA Scientists Find Primordial Organic Matter in Tagish Lake Meteorite"
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Based on the Science paper "Organic Globules in the Tagish Lake Meteorite: Remnants of the Protosolar Disk"

Abstract

Coordinated transmission electron microscopy and isotopic measurements of organic globules in the Tagish Lake meteorite shows that they have elevated ratios of nitrogen-15 to nitrogen-14 (1.2 to 2 times terrestrial) and of deuterium to hydrogen (2.5 to 9 times terrestrial). These isotopic anomalies are indicative of mass fractionation during chemical reactions at extremely low temperatures (10 to 20 kelvin), characteristic of cold molecular clouds and the outer protosolar disk. The globules probably originated as organic ice coatings on preexisting grains that were photochemically processed into refractory organic matter. The globules resemble cometary carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen (CHON) particles, suggesting that such grains were important constituents of the solar system starting materials.
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