The famous Murchison meteorite smashed into the Australian ground in 1969. Researchers then discovered that the space rock contained many organic chemicals, including amino acids—the building blocks of proteins. But a new study says that by focusing on the organic molecules by which life on earth might have been jumpstarted, those scientists missed possibly millions of other cosmic compounds.
Using high-resolution structural spectroscopy, a European research team [led by Philippe Schmitt-Kopplin of the Institute for Ecological Chemistry in Munich, Germany] has probed the errant rock further and found more than 14,000 basic combinations of molecules. They estimate that those compounds indicate that millions of different chemicals are present in the meteorite. And that suggests an extraterrestrial diversity of molecules far greater than the chemical makeup of Earth. The report is in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
According to the study, the Murchison meteorite is possibly older than our sun and picked up its chemical hitchhikers in the solar system’s infancy as it passed through primordial clouds. By further analyzing the meteorite, researchers hope to understand its chemical evolution and create a timeline of the chemistry of our universe.
[The above text is an exact transcript of this podcast.]
For more on Murchison, see Meteorite That Fell in 1969 Still Revealing Secrets of the Early Solar System