DOE News
    Doe Science news source
    The DOE Science News Source is a Newswise initiative to promote research news from the Office of Science of the DOE to the public and news media.
    • 2018-01-09 17:05:13
    • Article ID: 687721

    Ingredients for Life Revealed in Meteorites That Fell to Earth

    Study, based in part at Berkeley Lab, also suggests dwarf planet in asteroid belt may be a source of rich organic matter

    • Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

      Artist’s rendering of asteroids and space dust.

    • Credit: Queenie Chan/The Open University, U.K.

      A blue crystal recovered from a meteorite that fell near Morocco in 1998. The scale bar represents 200 microns (millionths of a meter).

    • Credit: NASA

      Ceres, a dwarf planet in the asteroid belt pictured here in this NASA-produced false-color image, may be the source of organic matter found on two meteorites that crashed to Earth in 1998.

    • Credit: Courtesy of Queenie Chan/The Open University, U.K.

      Queenie Chan, a scientist at The Open University in the U.K., studies meteorite sample in a NASA clean room.

    Two wayward space rocks, which separately crashed to Earth in 1998 after circulating in our solar system’s asteroid belt for billions of years, share something else in common: the ingredients for life. They are the first meteorites found to contain both liquid water and a mix of complex organic compounds such as hydrocarbons and amino acids.

    A detailed study of the chemical makeup within tiny blue and purple salt crystals sampled from these meteorites, which included results from X-ray experiments at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), also found evidence for the pair’s past intermingling and likely parents. These include Ceres, a dwarf planet that is the largest object in the asteroid belt, and the asteroid Hebe, a major source of meteorites that fall on Earth.

    The study, published Jan. 10 in the journal Science Advances, provides the first comprehensive chemical exploration of organic matter and liquid water in salt crystals found in Earth-impacting meteorites. The study treads new ground in the narrative of our solar system’s early history and asteroid geology while surfacing exciting possibilities for the existence of life elsewhere in Earth’s neighborhood.

    “It’s like a fly in amber,” said David Kilcoyne, a scientist at Berkeley Lab’s Advanced Light Source (ALS), which provided X-rays that were used to scan the samples’ organic chemical components, including carbon, oxygen, and nitrogen. Kilcoyne was part of the international research team that prepared the study.

    While the rich deposits of organic remnants recovered from the meteorites don’t provide any proof of life outside of Earth, Kilcoyne said the meteorites’ encapsulation of rich chemistry is analogous to the preservation of prehistoric insects in solidified sap droplets. 

    Queenie Chan, a planetary scientist and postdoctoral research associate at The Open University in the U.K. who was the study’s lead author, said, “This is really the first time we have found abundant organic matter also associated with liquid water that is really crucial to the origin of life and the origin of complex organic compounds in space.”

    She added, “We’re looking at the organic ingredients that can lead to the origin of life,” including the amino acids needed to form proteins. 

    If life did exist in some form in the early solar system, the study notes that these salt crystal-containing meteorites raise the “possibility of trapping life and/or biomolecules” within their salt crystals. The crystals carried microscopic traces of water that is believed to date back to the infancy of our solar system – about 4.5 billion years ago.

    Chan said the similarity of the crystals found in the meteorites – one of which smashed into the ground near a children’s basketball game in Texas in March 1998 and the other which hit near Morocco in August 1998 – suggest that their asteroid hosts may have crossed paths and mixed materials.

    There are also structural clues of an impact – perhaps by a small asteroid fragment impacting a larger asteroid, Chan said.

    This opens up many possibilities for how organic matter may be passed from one host to another in space, and scientists may need to rethink the processes that led to the complex suite of organic compounds on these meteorites. 

    “Things are not as simple as we thought they were,” Chan said.

    There are also clues, based on the organic chemistry and space observations, that the crystals may have originally been seeded by ice- or water-spewing volcanic activity on Ceres, she said.

    “Everything leads to the conclusion that the origin of life is really possible elsewhere,” Chan said. “There is a great range of organic compounds within these meteorites, including a very primitive type of organics that likely represent the early solar system’s organic composition.”

    Chan said the two meteorites that yielded the 2-millimeter-sized salt crystals were carefully preserved at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Texas, and the tiny crystals containing organic solids and water traces measure just a fraction of the width of a human hair. Chan meticulously collected these crystals in a dust-controlled room, splitting off tiny sample fragments with metal instruments resembling dental picks.

    “What makes our analysis so special is that we combined a lot of different state-of-the-art techniques to comprehensively study the organic components of these tiny salt crystals,” Chan said.

    Yoko Kebukawa, an associate professor of engineering at Yokohama National University in Japan, carried out experiments for the study at Berkeley Lab’s ALS in May 2016 with Aiko Nakato, a postdoctoral researcher at Kyoto University in Japan. Kilcoyne helped to train the researchers to use the ALS X-ray beamline and microscope.

    The beamline equipped with this X-ray microscope (a scanning transmission X-ray microscope, or STXM) is used in combination with a technique known as XANES (X-ray absorption near edge structure spectroscopy) to measure the presence of specific elements with a precision of tens of nanometers (tens of billionths of a meter).

    “We revealed that the organic matter was somewhat similar to that found in primitive meteorites, but contained more oxygen-bearing chemistry,” Kebukawa said. “Combined with other evidence, the results support the idea that the organic matter originated from a water-rich, or previously water-rich parent body – an ocean world in the early solar system, possibly Ceres.”

    Kebukawa also used the same STXM technique to study samples at the Photon Factory, a research site in Japan. And the research team enlisted a variety of other chemical experimental techniques to explore the samples’ makeup in different ways and at different scales.

    Chan noted that there are some other well-preserved crystals from the meteorites that haven’t yet been studied, and there are plans for follow-up studies to identify if any of those crystals may also contain water and complex organic molecules.

    Kebukawa said she looks forward to continuing studies of these samples at the ALS and other sites: “We may find more variations in organic chemistry.”

    The Advanced Light Source is a DOE Office of Science User Facility.

    Scientists at NASA Johnson Space Center, Kochi Institute for Core Sample Research in Japan, Carnegie Institution of Washington, Hiroshima University, The University of Tokyo, the High-Energy Accelerator Research Organization (KEK) in Japan, and The Graduate University for Advanced Studies (SOKENDAI) in Japan also participated in the study. The work was supported by the U.S. DOE Office of Science, the Universities Space Research Association, NASA, the National Institutes of Natural Sciences in Japan, Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, and The Mitsubishi Foundation.

    ###

    Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory addresses the world’s most urgent scientific challenges by advancing sustainable energy, protecting human health, creating new materials, and revealing the origin and fate of the universe. Founded in 1931, Berkeley Lab’s scientific expertise has been recognized with 13 Nobel Prizes. The University of California manages Berkeley Lab for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science. For more, visit www.lbl.gov.

    DOE’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit science.energy.gov.

    X
    X
    X
    • Filters

    • × Clear Filters

    Researchers switch material from one state to another with a single flash of light

    Scientists from the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have demonstrated a surprisingly simple way of flipping a material from one state into another, and then back again, with single flashes of laser light.

    The Stories Behind the Science: How Does the Ocean's Saltiness Affect Tropical Storms?

    Two researchers with personal experience of hurricanes set out to investigate the role of an underestimated factor in storm's strength - salinity. They found that salinity plays a larger role than anyone thought, including them.

    Surprise finding: Discovering a previously unknown role for a source of magnetic fields

    Feature describes unexpected discovery of a role the process that seeds magnetic fields plays in mediating a phenomenon that occurs throughout the universe and can disrupt cell phone service and knock out power grids on Earth.

    Genetic behavior reveals cause of death in poplars essential to ecosystems, industry

    Scientists studying a valuable, but vulnerable, species of poplar have identified the genetic mechanism responsible for the species' inability to resist a pervasive and deadly disease. Their finding could lead to more successful hybrid poplar varieties for increased biofuels and forestry production and protect native trees against infection.

    Pushing the (Extra Cold) Frontiers of Superconducting Science

    Ames Laboratory has developed a method to measure magnetic properties of superconducting and magnetic materials that exhibit unusual quantum behavior at very low temperatures in high magnetic fields.

    Scientists Find Unusual Behavior in Topological Material

    Argonne scientists have identified a new class of topological materials made by inserting transition metal atoms into the atomic lattice of a well-known two-dimensional material.

    Wind Farms and Reducing Hurricane Precipitation

    New research reveals an unexpected benefit of large-scale offshore wind farms: the ability to lessen precipitation from hurricanes.

    New simulations confirm efficiency of waste-removal process in plasma device

    PPPL scientists have found evidence suggesting that a process could remove the unwanted ash produced during fusion reactions and make the fusion processes more efficient within a type of fusion facility known as a field-reversed configuration device.

    How Animals Use Their Tails to Swish and Swat Away Insects

    A new study shows how animals use their tails to keep mosquitoes at bay by combining a swish that blows away most of the biting bugs and a swat that kills the ones that get through.

    Missing gamma-ray blobs shed new light on dark matter, cosmic magnetism

    Scientists, including researchers from the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, have compiled the most detailed catalog of such blobs using eight years of data collected with the Large Area Telescope (LAT) on NASA's Fermi Gamma-Ray Space Telescope. The blobs, including 19 gamma-ray sources that weren't known to be extended before, provide crucial information on how stars are born, how they die, and how galaxies spew out matter trillions of miles into space.


    • Filters

    • × Clear Filters

    Engineering professor receives Department of Energy grant

    New Mexico State University Department of Civil Engineering Assistant Professor Ehsan Dehghan Niri has received a United States Department of Energy grant. This is a three-year award for $400,000 and is a collaboration with Arizona State University.

    AVS and AIP Publishing Expand Partnership to Launch AVS Quantum Science

    AIP Publishing and AVS: Science and Technology of Materials, Interfaces, and Processing (AVS) today announced an agreement to publish AVS Quantum Science, a new online interdisciplinary journal. The announcement coincides with the AVS 65th International Symposium & Exhibition in Long Beach, California, from October 21-26, 2018.

    Prototype Solar Energy, Battery Systems to Fuel Commercialization

    Designing, building and testing prototype systems that show how renewable energy can power devices, such as a weather and soil sensor station, can help bridge the gap between basic science research and commercialization.

    Argonne to Advance High Performance Computing in Manufacturing

    Argonne awarded funding to partner with Industry to advance the use of high performance computing in manufacturing.

    "Invisible Glass" Wins 2018 Create the Future Design Contest Grand Prize

    Scientists from the Center for Functional Nanomaterials developed a technique for making nonreflecting glass, silicon, and plastic surfaces.

    Missouri S&T researchers win multimillion dollar grant to build fast-charging stations for electric cars

    Researchers from Missouri S&T and three private companies will combine their expertise to create charging stations for electric vehicles that could charge a car in less than 10 minutes - matching the time it takes to fill up a conventional vehicle with gasoline."The big problem with electric vehicles is range, and it's not so much range as range anxiety.

    Making batteries store more energy, last longer

    A new solid polymer electrolyte may help make cell phone batteries store more energy and last longer.

    Three Brookhaven Lab Scientists Named Fellows of American Physical Society

    The American Physical Society (APS), the world's largest physics organization, has elected three scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory as 2018 APS fellows.

    Southern Research first to win accreditation under ISO 14034

    Southern Research has become the first organization in the United States to earn accreditation under ISO 14034, a new international standard for evaluating and verifying environmental technologies that was recently adopted by the American National Standards Institute.

    Kawtar Hafidi to head Physical Sciences and Engineering directorate at Argonne

    Physicist Kawtar Hafidi has been appointed Associate Laboratory Director, Physical Sciences and Engineering at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory.


    • Filters

    • × Clear Filters

    Cryocooler Cools an Accelerator Cavity

    Researchers demonstrated cryogen-free operation of a superconducting radio-frequency cavity that might ease barriers to its use in societal applications.

    Shining Light on the Separation of Rare Earth Metals

    New studies identify key molecular characteristics to potentially separate rare earth metals cleanly and efficiently with light.

    Placing Atoms for Optimum Catalysts

    Precise positioning of oxygens could help engineer faster, more efficient energy-relevant chemical transformations.

    How to Make Soot and Stardust

    Scientists unlock mystery that could help reduce emissions of fine particles from combustion engines and other sources.

    Breaking the Symmetry Between Fundamental Forces

    Scientists improve our understanding of the relationship between fundamental forces by re-creating the earliest moments of the universe.

    Water Plays Unexpected Role in Forming Minerals

    Water molecules line up tiny particles to attach and form minerals; understanding how this happens impacts energy extraction and storage along with waste disposal.

    Heavy Particles Get Caught Up in the Flow

    First direct measurement show how heavy particles containing a charm quark get caught up in the flow of early universe particle soup.

    Seeing Between the Atoms

    New detector enables electron microscope imaging at record-breaking resolution.

    Scaling Up Single-Crystal Graphene

    New method can make films of atomically thin carbon that are over a foot long.

    Discovered: Optimal Magnetic Fields Suppress Instabilities in Tokamak Plasmas

    U.S. and Korean scientists show how to find and use beneficial 3-D field perturbations to stabilize dangerous edge-localized modes in plasma.


    Spotlight

    Thursday October 11, 2018, 04:00 PM

    Research on Light-Matter Interaction Could Lead to Improved Electronic and Optoelectronic Devices

    Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

    Wednesday October 03, 2018, 07:05 PM

    Innovating Our Energy Future

    Oregon State University, College of Engineering

    Tuesday October 02, 2018, 03:05 PM

    Physics graduate student takes her thesis research to a Department of Energy national lab

    University of Alabama at Birmingham

    Friday September 21, 2018, 01:05 PM

    "Model" students enjoy Argonne campus life

    Argonne National Laboratory

    Thursday September 06, 2018, 01:05 PM

    Writing Code for a More Skilled and Diverse STEM Workforce

    Brookhaven National Laboratory

    Tuesday September 04, 2018, 11:30 AM

    New graduate student summer school launches at Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory

    Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory

    Friday August 31, 2018, 06:05 PM

    The Gridlock State

    California State University (CSU) Chancellor's Office

    Friday August 31, 2018, 02:05 PM

    Meet Jasmine Hatcher and Trishelle Copeland-Johnson

    Brookhaven National Laboratory

    Friday August 24, 2018, 11:05 AM

    Argonne hosts Modeling, Experimentation and Validation Summer School

    Argonne National Laboratory

    Wednesday August 22, 2018, 01:05 PM

    Students affected by Hurricane Maria bring their research to SLAC

    SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

    Wednesday August 22, 2018, 10:05 AM

    Brookhaven Lab Pays Tribute to 2018 Summer Interns

    Brookhaven National Laboratory

    Monday August 20, 2018, 12:05 PM

    Changing How Buildings Are Made

    Washington University in St. Louis

    Thursday August 16, 2018, 12:05 PM

    CSUMB Selected to Host Architecture at Zero Competition in 2019

    California State University, Monterey Bay

    Friday July 20, 2018, 03:00 PM

    Department of Energy Invests $64 Million in Advanced Nuclear Technology

    Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

    Thursday July 19, 2018, 05:00 PM

    Professor Miao Yu Named the Priti and Mukesh Chatter '82 Career Development Professor

    Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

    Tuesday July 03, 2018, 11:05 AM

    2018 RHIC & AGS Annual Users' Meeting: 'Illuminating the QCD Landscape'

    Brookhaven National Laboratory

    Friday June 29, 2018, 06:05 PM

    Argonne welcomes The Martian author Andy Weir

    Argonne National Laboratory

    Monday June 18, 2018, 09:55 AM

    Creating STEM Knowledge and Innovations to Solve Global Issues Like Water, Food, and Energy

    Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy (IMSA)

    Friday June 15, 2018, 10:00 AM

    Professor Emily Liu Receives $1.8 Million DoE Award for Solar Power Systems Research

    Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

    Thursday June 07, 2018, 03:05 PM

    Celebrating 40 years of empowerment in science

    Argonne National Laboratory

    Monday May 07, 2018, 10:30 AM

    Introducing Graduate Students Across the Globe to Photon Science

    Brookhaven National Laboratory

    Wednesday May 02, 2018, 04:05 PM

    Students from Massachusetts and Washington Win DOE's 28th National Science Bowl(r)

    Department of Energy, Office of Science

    Thursday April 12, 2018, 07:05 PM

    The Race for Young Scientific Minds

    Argonne National Laboratory

    Wednesday March 14, 2018, 02:05 PM

    Q&A: Al Ashley Reflects on His Efforts to Diversify SLAC and Beyond

    SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

    Thursday February 15, 2018, 12:05 PM

    Insights on Innovation in Energy, Humanitarian Aid Highlight UVA Darden's Net Impact Week

    University of Virginia Darden School of Business

    Friday February 09, 2018, 11:05 AM

    Ivy League Graduate, Writer and Activist with Dyslexia Visits CSUCI to Reframe the Concept of Learning Disabilities

    California State University, Channel Islands

    Wednesday January 17, 2018, 12:05 PM

    Photographer Adam Nadel Selected as Fermilab's New Artist-in-Residence for 2018

    Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab)

    Wednesday January 17, 2018, 12:05 PM

    Fermilab Computing Partners with Argonne, Local Schools for Hour of Code

    Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab)

    Wednesday December 20, 2017, 01:05 PM

    Q&A: Sam Webb Teaches X-Ray Science from a Remote Classroom

    SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

    Monday December 18, 2017, 01:05 PM

    The Future of Today's Electric Power Systems

    Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

    Monday December 18, 2017, 12:05 PM

    Supporting the Development of Offshore Wind Power Plants

    Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

    Tuesday October 03, 2017, 01:05 PM

    Stairway to Science

    Argonne National Laboratory

    Thursday September 28, 2017, 12:05 PM

    After-School Energy Rush

    Argonne National Laboratory

    Thursday September 28, 2017, 10:05 AM

    Bringing Diversity Into Computational Science Through Student Outreach

    Brookhaven National Laboratory

    Thursday September 21, 2017, 03:05 PM

    From Science to Finance: SLAC Summer Interns Forge New Paths in STEM

    SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

    Thursday September 07, 2017, 02:05 PM

    Students Discuss 'Cosmic Opportunities' at 45th Annual SLAC Summer Institute

    SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

    Thursday August 31, 2017, 05:05 PM

    Binghamton University Opens $70 Million Smart Energy Building

    Binghamton University, State University of New York

    Wednesday August 23, 2017, 05:05 PM

    Widening Horizons for High Schoolers with Code

    Argonne National Laboratory

    Saturday May 20, 2017, 12:05 PM

    Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Graduates Urged to Embrace Change at 211th Commencement

    Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

    Monday May 15, 2017, 01:05 PM

    ORNL, University of Tennessee Launch New Doctoral Program in Data Science

    Oak Ridge National Laboratory

    Friday April 07, 2017, 11:05 AM

    Champions in Science: Profile of Jonathan Kirzner

    Department of Energy, Office of Science

    Wednesday April 05, 2017, 12:05 PM

    High-Schooler Solves College-Level Security Puzzle From Argonne, Sparks Interest in Career

    Argonne National Laboratory

    Tuesday March 28, 2017, 12:05 PM

    Champions in Science: Profile of Jenica Jacobi

    Department of Energy, Office of Science

    Friday March 24, 2017, 10:40 AM

    Great Neck South High School Wins Regional Science Bowl at Brookhaven Lab

    Brookhaven National Laboratory

    Wednesday February 15, 2017, 04:05 PM

    Middle Schoolers Test Their Knowledge at Science Bowl Competition

    Argonne National Laboratory





    Showing results

    0-4 Of 2215