Science

Comet Pan-STARRS Reminds Us Of Home: Did Humans Come From Comets?

By Pierre Dumont , Mar 06, 2013 01:19 PM EST

If you're really fascinated by the comet Panstarrs this week, you might want to take a closer look at such heavenly bodies and ask: did we all come from comets?

The question is not a new one, but new, compelling evidence furthers the idea that this may in fact be the case. The study, whose results were published in the "Astrophysical Journal," was conducted by scientists from the University of Hawaii and the University of California, Berkeley. The results show that complex dipeptides can form on the surface of comets. Dipeptides are formed from the linking of two amino acids, which are a basic staple of life. They turn into peptides, which then become proteins.

"It is fascinating to consider that the most basic biochemical building blocks that led to life on Earth may well have had an extraterrestrial origin," says UC Berkeley chemist Richard Mathies.

In conducting their study, the scientists created a simulated comet filled with carbon dioxide, ammonia and hydrocarbons like methane, ethane and propane. They then placed the object in a vacuum chamber with a temperature of ten degrees above absolute zero and charged it with high-energy electrons similar to cosmic rays in space. The result was that the chemicals formed complex, organic compounds including dipeptides, which are crucial to the formation of life.

This is not the first time this type of discovery has been made. In 2010, scientists in Australia discovered a meteorite that harbored several million organic chemicals. In 1953, a study called the "Miller Urey experiment" was conducted whereby scientists shot simulated lightning into a mixture of water, methane, ammonia and hydrogen, producing over 20 amino acids.

What's hindered scientists, however, has been the absence of more complex molecular structures that led to life on Earth. This has led them to believe that life on our planet sprung from Earth's oceans rather than space.

This new study may indicate otherwise.  And although it may not prove that life on Earth came from elsewhere, it surely is an intriguing step in that direction.

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