Delivery services are so convenient. You can get monthly boxes of toys and coffee, or even kits with ingredients for a dinner sent straight to your house. If you’re tolerant of unpredictable delivery schedule, you might even find organic compounds and liquid water, ready to be assembled into life as we know it. It’s not exactly farm-to-home, but scientists studying two particular arrivals are realizing that Ceres-to-Earth may be the next best thing.
The big catch with these deliveries is that they arrive via meteorites, and thus aren’t on the most predictable schedule. While asteroids of various sizes intersect with the Earth all the time, these particular space rocks survived a trip to the planet’s surface in 1998. One was found in Texas near a basketball court, while the other came months later in Morocco. The timing, similarity of composition and structural details suggest that these particular rocks came from two different points of origin, but may have been diverted to Earth thanks to a single collision in space. Scientists’ best guess is that the rocks were pieces of the dwarf planet Ceres and the asteroid Hebe, or at least pieces of those bodies’ descendants.
While the rocks themselves may have had a rough ride, the organic compounds and water molecules were safely stowed inside salt crystals the whole time. The water molecules in particular may even be 4.5 billion years old, dating back to the first days of our solar system. While the water, nitrogen carbon and other ingredients of hydrocarbons and amino acids were well-preserved, they arrived in quantities too small for even an appetizer. The crystals themselves were no bigger than 2 millimeters, and identifying these crucial compounds required the use of powerful tools like a scanning transmission x-ray microscopes (STXM).
Nonetheless, these tiny samples have bigger implications. They don’t suggest directly suggest that life exists on a place like Ceres, but they add to the growing evidence that life-friendly environments may be, or at least have been, more common than once thought. What’s more, those sources of organic compounds may be making regular deliveries around the solar system, seeding planets and other asteroids with all the ingredients needed to whip up some protein-producing goodness.
Source: Ingredients for life revealed in meteorites that fell to Earth by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Phys.org