TribLIVE

| USWorld

 
Larger text Larger text Smaller text Smaller text | Order Photo Reprints

Recipe for life possibly landed on Earth in crash of comet

Email Newsletters

Click here to sign up for one of our email newsletters.

Daily Photo Galleries

'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

By San Jose Mercury News
Monday, Sept. 16, 2013, 9:03 p.m.
 

LIVERMORE, Calif. — Life started with a dirty snowball, tossed at Earth from space.

That is the conclusion reached by a group of international scientists, confirming a theory conceived by a Lawrence Livermore Laboratory researcher. The team fired a speeding projectile into a special ice mixture, generating a hot and high-pressure environment — akin to the comets that streak through the heavens, piercing our atmosphere.

And presto: Out of the explosion came life's raw materials, called amino acids.

This final product — a pound of “goop,” said Livermore Lab researcher Nir Goldman — is a modest ancestor to our now-gloriously lively Earth.

But it is not the only explanation for how our home took its first halting steps to becoming alive. Dozens of other teams are exploring alternate theories.

“But these studies prove that this is one avenue in which amino acids were produced, early on,” said Goldman. “It is exciting to ponder the different avenues that could have been the origin of life.”

Using computer simulations performed on lab supercomputers, Goldman proposed in 2010 and again in 2013 that an icy comet crashing into Earth billions of years ago could have produced amino acids.

It is known that comets bombarded the Earth between 3.8 billion and 4.5 billion years ago. It is likely that the comet that triggered life hit us at an oblique angle, rather than a direct smash, he said.

Amid the ice, the comets bore carbon dioxide, methane, ammonia and other trace gases — precursors of amino acids.

These simple molecules could have supplied the raw materials of life, Goldman believes. And the impact with early Earth would have yielded the energy to drive this prebiotic chemistry.

Goldman's idea was put to the test and proven by British collaborators, whose findings are published in the latest issue of the journal Nature Geosciences.

Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.

 

 


Show commenting policy

Most-Read Nation

  1. Defense memo reveals plan to protect transgender troops
  2. Cruz switches targets, takes exception with IRS practices
  3. Calif. oil slick expected to dissipate
  4. Cincy officer indicted on murder charge in fatal shooting of motorist
  5. Mich. high court strikes down mandatory fees for state employees in unions
  6. New TSA administrator vows training to address security gaps
  7. Ohio cop indicted on murder charge in traffic-stop shooting
  8. Obama hopes he has enough votes to sustain a potential veto of Iran nuke deal; pro-Israel groups aim to stop it
  9. House approves bill targeting VA staffers
  10. 911 dispatcher hung up on caller before wounded teen’s death in June
  11. University of New Hampshire language guide panned