TechUnearthing space secrets: Aussie scientists find life molecule clues on Ryugu asteroid and Murchison meteorite

Unearthing space secrets: Aussie scientists find life molecule clues on Ryugu asteroid and Murchison meteorite

The surface of the asteroid Ryugu
The surface of the asteroid Ryugu
Images source: © Licensor

12:32 PM EST, December 22, 2023

The experiment was undertaken by scientists from the WA-Organic and Isotope Geochemistry Center at Curtin University in Australia. They compared organic compounds known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) obtained in the process of burning plants with similar compounds found in samples extracted from the Ryugu asteroid and the Murchison meteorite. PAHs are organic compounds comprising of carbon and hydrogen. Although common on Earth, they're also found in rocky celestial bodies.

Comparing Isotopes

The scientists obtained the comparative samples by meticulously burning several species of Australian plants. Their comparative analysis used a pattern of PAHs obtained from fragments of the Ryugu asteroid, brought back to Earth in 2020 by a Japanese spacecraft. Other samples were derived from a fragment of the Murchison meteorite, which fell on Australia in 1969. The purpose of the analysis was to determine the temperature at which these organic compounds were created.

PAHs are organic compounds formed during high temperature processes, such as frying, baking, and smoking food. A high concentration of these compounds can indicate significant environmental pollution and can potentially be carcinogenic. Their formation process has a lot in common with other organic substances and surprisingly, they're also created in the harsh conditions of cosmic vacuum. It's also possible that they played a part in the formation of organic life forms on Earth.

Results of the Analysis

The PAH samples derived from celestial bodies exhibited various characteristics. Scientists determined that the smaller molecules most likely originated from the cold areas of the cosmic void, while the larger ones were created in a warmer environment, such as near a star or inside a larger celestial body.

This study acts as a stepping stone for further research on organic compounds, providing scientists with valuable insight into how PAHs are formed in space, and the possibility of their creation far from the warm vicinity of stars. Alex Holman, co-author of the study, describes it as providing a valuable insight into the history and chemistry of celestial bodies such as asteroids and meteorites.

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