Simulation Reveals Ancient Space Rock Collisions May Have Helped Form Life on Earth and Mars

New research reveals that asteroid impact sites in the ocean may offer a significant correlation in explaining the formation of the essential molecules for life. The analysis found the appearance of amino acids that are the building blocks for proteins, proving the role of meteorites in delivering life’s molecules to our planet, and potentially to Mars as well.

There are two main explanations for the origins of life’s building molecules, namely extraterrestrial transfer, such as through meteorites, or endogenous formation. The existence of amino acids and other biomolecules in meteorites seems to indicate the former explanation might be correct.

Researchers from Tohoku University, National Institute for Materials Science (NIMS), Center for High-Pressure Science & Technology Advanced Research (HPSTAR), and Osaka University conducted experiments to see the reactions involved when a meteorite collides into the ocean.

To do this, they analyzed the engagements between carbon dioxide, nitrogen, water, and iron in a laboratory impact facility employing a single-stage propellant gun. Their simulation unveiled the formation of amino acids, including glycine and alanine, which are direct components of proteins, which catalyze a number of biological responses.

Martian Amino Acids

The team of researchers used carbon dioxide and nitrogen as the carbon and nitrogen origins because these elements are considered the two significant components in the atmosphere on the Hadean Earth, which existed over four billion years ago.

Co-author from Tohoku University, Yoshihiro Furukawa, explained: “Making organic molecules form reduced compounds like methane and ammonia are not difficult, but they are regarded as minor components in the atmosphere at that time.”

He added: “The finding of amino acid formation from carbon dioxide and molecular nitrogen demonstrates the importance in making life’s building blocks from these ubiquitous compounds.”

The theory that an ocean once existed on Mars is also an interesting point for exploration. Carbon dioxide and nitrogen could have possibly been the main constituent gases of the Martian atmosphere when the ocean existed. Therefore, impact-induced amino acid formation offers a possible origin of life’s components on ancient Mars.

“Further investigations will reveal more about the role meteorites played in bringing more complex biomolecules to Earth and Mars,” Furukawa said.

The study has been published on June 8th, 2020, in the journal Nature.

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