Liquid water found in ancient meteorites that fell on Earth

01_10_meteorite_halite_sample

The research is based on the first ever comprehensive analysis of halite (salt-containing) crystals found within Zag and Monahans, two 4.5 billion-year-old rocks believed to have come from the asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.

A team of researchers from the Berkley Lab at the Department of Energy organized a deep study of two meteorites that fell on Earth in the year 1998 to find evidence proving the presence of liquid water as well as a well-structured mix of complex organic compounds that included amino acids as well as hydrocarbons.

If life did exist in some form in the early Solar System, salt crystal-containing meteorites raise the "possibility of trapping life and/or biomolecules" within the salt crystals.

The origin story of the meteors boils down to two places, the first being Ceres, which is a brown dwarf planet and the largest object found in the adjoining asteroid belt.

The researchers also analysed the chemical composition of the meteorite bodies and found the organic content to be different from those found in the crystals.

"Everything leads to the conclusion that the origin of life is really possible elsewhere", Chan said.

With the samples having been stored on Earth for two decades, the scientists had to go to extraordinary lengths to make sure the two meteorites hadn't been contaminated.

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Monahans meteorite landed in Texas in March 1998 while the Zag meteorite on a mountain in the vicinity of Zag, Morocco in August of the same year.

The finding was made by an worldwide team of researchers, which included scientists from the Open University (OU) in the United Kingdom and Nasa's Johnson Space Centre in Texas.

The in-depth analysis of the millimeter-sized salt crystals from the meteorites took time to complete because scientists needed a highly-sensitive instrument to study the crystals of amino acids at nanoscopic scales.

Thankfully, 20 years of technological breakthroughs have meant that we're now able to get a better look at what's going on inside these meteors, and a new study from the Open University has proven absolutely fascinating.

"We revealed that the organic matter was somewhat similar to that found in primitive meteorites, but contained more oxygen-bearing chemistry", says Yoko Kebukawa, co-author of the study.

"We conducted the experiments in the cleanest laboratories in the world at the NASA Johnson Space Centre, which avoided any contamination from things such as dust in the air." said Chan.

The Science Advances published the abstract of the study.

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