Organics Found in Meteorite Glass: Page 3

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Organics launched off the planet could have traveled through space to seed other bodies, suggesting a possible method of travel for panspermia. This theory suggests that life did not originate on Earth, but traveled here from elsewhere in the universe.

Exploding meteors! Near-miss asteroids! Aahhh!! Can we get some warning next time?
Nikulin Vyacheslav/ITAR-TASS Photo/Corbis

Rocky bodies such as Mars, the Moon, and Titan could potentially have organics trapped after impacts hit their surface, though Bowden says that without further evidence, "this is still speculation." Even if ejecta from icy moons such as Jupiter's Europaformed around organics, they would be composed of ice, which would easily be breached when they melted.

Bowden went on to point out the difficulty of locating such finds on Earth.

"The volume of organic matter is small in comparison to the volumes of rock and sediment that are thrown up," he said. "After a few seconds in the hot ejecta, it's an even smaller volume of organic matter being diluted by a lot of rock and sediment."

But although the white glass only makes up a small percentage of the Darwin ejecta, Howard remained positive about the potential for similar discoveries of preserved organic biomarkers in other impact glasses and tekites here, and perhaps elsewhere.

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"Impacts are the most common geologic process in the solar system. Mars is littered with craters and known to have impact glasses across its surface," Howard said.

"We've shown these glasses are potentially some of the most stable organic repositories imaginable, so yes, if looking for biomarker evidence of life on Mars — or any other planet — impact glasses are prospective targets."

The challenge, he noted, is discovering the tiny inclusions. Still, on Earth at least, the capture of organics could be more abundant than previous finds have indicated.

"To the uniformitarian mind of a geologist, finding a discovery like ours suggests it’s a product of a common process," Howard said.

"Ultimately, impacts are impacts and organics are abundant — and apparently more resilient than we ever predicted, at least in terrestrial settings."

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This story was provided by Astrobiology Magazine, a web-based publication sponsored by the NASA astrobiology program.

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