Crucible of the Building Blocks of Life

Just add water, gasses, and simple organic molecules 

Space news (July 27, 2015) – the search for life beyond Earth – a simple recipe for extraterrestrial life –

The simple building blocks of life could have traveled to Earth on icy grains of dust carried on asteroids and meteorites during the early moments of the Solar System.
The simple building blocks of life could have traveled to Earth on icy grains of dust carried on asteroids and meteorites during the early moments of the Solar System.

NASA scientists studying the origins of organic compounds important to the development of life on Earth think they’re on the trail of a cosmic “Crucible of the Building Blocks of Life”. Recent experiments conducted by astrobiologists working at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland indicate asteroids and meteorites could have been the source of complex organic compounds essential to the evolution of life on Earth. Essential organic compounds they have been able to reproduce in laboratory experiments from simpler organic compounds, water, and gasses in simulations of the space environments of meteorites and asteroids. 

“We found that the types of organic compounds in our laboratory-produced ices match very well to what is found in meteorites,” said Karen Smith of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “This result suggests that these important organic compounds in meteorites may have originated from simple molecular ices in space. This type of chemistry may also be relevant for comets, which contain large amounts of water and carbon dioxide ices. These experiments show that vitamin B3 and other complex organic compounds could be made in space and it is plausible that meteorite and comet impacts could have added an extraterrestrial component to the supply of vitamin B3 on ancient Earth.”

“This work is part of a broad research program in the field of Astrobiology at NASA Goddard. We are working to understand the origins of biologically important molecules and how they came to exist throughout the Solar System and on Earth. The experiments performed in our laboratory demonstrate an important possible connection between the complex organic molecules formed in cold interstellar space and those we find in meteorites.”

The Crucible of the Building Blocks of Life

Deep within immense clouds of gas and dust created by exploding stars (supernovae) and the winds of red giant stars coming to the end of their days are countless dust grains. Many of these dust grains will end up part of asteroids and meteorites like the millions of bodies in the Main Asteroid Belt, Kuiper Belt, and Oort Cloud. Asteroids and meteorites that bombarded the Earth from space during the formation of the planets and Solar System.

Cosmic dust grains carried on asteroids and meteorites that struck the Earth during the first moments of the birth of the Solar System could have carried complex organic compounds that contributed to the birth and evolution of life on Earth.
Cosmic dust grains carried on asteroids and meteorites that struck the Earth during the first moments of the birth of the Solar System could have carried complex organic compounds that contributed to the birth and evolution of life on Earth.

NASA space scientists were able to reproduce a “Crucible of the Building Blocks of Life” using an aluminum plate cooled to minus 423 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 253 Celsius) as the cold surface of an interstellar dust grain carried by an asteroid or meteorite heading to Earth 4.5 billion years ago. The experiments were conducted in a vacuum chamber used to replicate conditions in space to which they added gasses containing water, carbon dioxide, and the simple organic compound pyridine. Bombarding the cold surface with high energy protons from a particle accelerator to simulate cosmic radiation and other radiation found in space produced more complex organic compounds like vitamin B3.  

Data collected by the European Space Agency's Rosetta Mission during the months and years ahead could shine more light on this subject. Rosetta's lander, Philae, is currently sitting on the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko awaiting its closest approach to the Sun in August 2015. Presently, the surface of the comet is warming and gases we can test to validate the results of these experiments are expected to be released as it nears Sol. 
Data collected by the European Space Agency’s Rosetta Mission during the months and years ahead could shine more light on this subject. Rosetta’s lander, Philae, is currently sitting on the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko awaiting its closest approach to the Sun in August 2015. Presently, the surface of the comet is warming and gasses we can test to validate the results of these experiments are expected to be released as it nears Sol.

To learn more about the European Space Agency and its work with the Rosetta mission go here.

To learn more about NASA’s space mission and the search for life beyond Earth visit here.

Learn more about the Goddard Space Flight Center here.

Learn more about plans to visit Jupiter’s moon Europa to have a look for the ingredients that make life possible.

Read about the search for the missing link in black hole evolution.

Learn about the planets space scientists are finding orbiting four star systems.

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Blaze Your Name in the Night Sky

Celestial bodies in the night sky are often named after their discoverers

Astronomy News – Write your name in the annals of the human journey to the beginning of space and time –

Take a look at the night sky above you and name a few of the celestial objects you know in your head. Would you like to leave your name written in the annals of astronomy and human history? One of the greatest honors for an astronomer is to have their name adorn a celestial body in the night sky. Look up into the night sky and many of the stellar bodies you see will have been named in honor of their discoverer, a famous figure in history or science, or will have been given a designation of some type to distinguish them from other stellar bodies. Humans will forever speak of the distant ice balls at the fringe of the solar system we refer to as the Kuiper Belt and Haley’s Comet.

Halley's Comet will be back one day
Halley’s Comet will be seen again in a few years

Astronomy lovers can write their name in the history books

True, the chances of a celestial body in the night sky being named for a particular amateur astronomer is remote, at best, considering the competition and the fact that the decision is made by other powers in the universe. The possibility of this certainly increases for a professional astronomer making a significant discovery, but the final decision is still in the hands of other powers. There are a lot more amateur astronomers looking at the night sky on a nightly basis than professional astronomers, and this fact alone is going to make it likely that amateur astronomers will make significant contributions to the history of astronomy.

It certainly wouldn’t be surprising if a professional astronomer or two have spent a few moments in contemplation of a celestial body being named in their honour or moment in time when they could be making astronomy history. Speculating astronomers might have even gone to the trouble of choosing a name for their discovery. The actual naming of newly discovered celestial bodies is actually conducted by other powers in the world of astronomy.

This doesn’t mean that amateur astronomers aren’t honoured by having their names adorn a celestial body in the night sky. Tom Bopp, an amateur stargazer will forever live on in the minds of humans as the discoverer of the biggest comet of the twentieth century, Hale-Bopp, which was also independently discovered by astronomer Alan Hale.

Hale-Bopp is often very bright in the night sky when it appears
Hale-Bopp’s two tails are in view here

Astronomy is a journey all human beings can take part in

The only way you can hope to leave your name written in the history of astronomy is to spend time watching the night sky above you. Every time you board your time machine to the stars and soar upward and out into the cosmos, you could find something that no human has seen before.

Join me every night as we’ll “Journey to the Beginning of Time and Space” and go on a voyage of discovery that will take us to unknown parts of the universe.

We board our astronomy telescope nightly

Read about the present news on the search for life beyond Earth https://spaceshipearth1.wordpress.com/2013/12/25/the-search-for-life-beyond-earth-takes-a-turn-at-jupiter/.

View the latest in high definition images of the solar system provided by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft https://spaceshipearth1.wordpress.com/2013/12/22/cassini-spacecraft-show-views-of-the-solar-system-in-natural-color/.

We tell you about the astronomy highlights upcoming for 2014 https://spaceshipearth1.wordpress.com/2013/12/19/2014-the-journey-ahead/.