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Thread: From a Distant Comet, a Clue to Life

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    From a Distant Comet, a Clue to Life

    Source: NYT (8-18-09)
    For the first time, a building block of proteins — and hence of life as we know it — has been found in a comet.

    That adds to the prevailing notion that many of the ingredients for the origin of life showered down on the early Earth when asteroids (interplanetary rocks orbiting the inner solar system) and comets (dirty ice balls that generally congregate in the outer solar system beyond Neptune) made impact with the planet.

    In the new research, scientists at the Goddard Space Flight Center, in Greenbelt, Md., detected the amino acid glycine in comet bits brought back in 2006 by the NASA space probe Stardust.

    “It tells us more about the inventory of organics in the early solar system,” said Jamie Elsila, an astrochemist at Goddard who led the research...


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    In the vast realm of space, I do believe that life is possible, in other areas of the Cosmos. It may not be life as we know it, but it would be a good guess that primitive life exist somewhere out there.

    Amino acid detected in space
    Aug 11, 2003

    The idea that primitive life on Earth may have been seeded by a comet or asteroid impact is controversial. Since it was suggested more than 40 years ago, however, increasingly complex organic molecules have been discovered in space. Now astronomers have detected an amino acid - one of the building blocks of proteins - in interstellar dust clouds in our galaxy. The discovery of glycine in space suggests that interstellar molecules may have played a pivotal role in the prebiotic chemistry of the Earth (Y-J Kuan et al. 2003 Astrophys. J. 593 848).

    Glycine - CH2NH2COOH - is the simplest of all the 20 amino acids. Yi-Jehng Kuan of the National Taiwan Normal University and co-workers from the NASA Ames Research Center and the Polish Academy of Sciences searched for the molecule in the hot cores of three giant molecular clouds, which are regions of active star formation. They measured the spectral lines of the clouds - Sagittarius-B2, Orion-KL and W51 - over a four-year period using the 12-metre telescope at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) in Arizona.

    The frequencies of certain transitions in glycine, which are known from experiments in the lab, provide a characteristic signature for the molecule. Knowing this spectral "fingerprint", the researchers were able to identify 27 glycine lines at frequencies between 90 and 265 GHz in the clouds. This confirms the results of earlier searches for interstellar glycine in which tantalizing evidence was provided by a handful of spectral lines.
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    amino acids in space
    A portion of the Orion Nebula

    The first detection of an amino acid in space was made in 1994 when glycine was found in a star-forming region about one light-year across within the molecular cloud known as Sagittarius B2. This discovery adds weight to the idea that some important prebiotic chemicals, including amino acids, form on grains of cosmic dust and are later deposited on the surface of young planets during impacts with comets and asteroids (see cosmic collisions, biological effects ).

    A long-standing puzzle connected with the origin of life on Earth is why all of the amino acids in terrestrial organisms are "left-handed", or laevorotatory. One possible answer is that the choice was made, not on the Earth's surface, but long before the Earth and Sun even formed, by the action of ultraviolet light on interstellar molecules.
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