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Researchers discover microscopic plant compound on meteorite fragment


(NaturalNews) According to news reports, researchers from the University of Hawaii have discovered traces of complex plant compounds on a meteorite discovered in the Nevada desert in 2010.

It is not the first time that a finding of this nature has shaken up ideas about how firm the divide between earth and outer space actually is. In this case, it is unclear whether the chemicals in question originated on Earth and were later launched into space, or whether they formed in space itself.

The researchers further claim that the chemical found was identical to tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), one of the primary substances thought to be responsible for the "high" from marijuana.

"If chemical substances, that change brain functions and result in alterations in perception, mood, or consciousness in humans, find their origin in outer space, what role then has cometary impacts played on the human species?" asked researcher James Hun. "Or on life on the planet as whole?"

Did life's building blocks form in space?

The idea of "Panspermia" suggests that life has been distributed throughout the universe in the form of microorganisms hitching rides on celestial objects such as asteroids, meteors and comets, thereby "seeding" various planets. While ancient in origin, the idea got a major boost in the 1960s when scientists first discovered amino acids in several meteorites, including one that fell outside of Murchison, Australia, in 1969. This led to a new hypothesis, known as "soft panspermia," that perhaps the building blocks of life actually originated in outer space, then combined on earth to give rise to life as we know it.

In 2009, a study in Meteoritics and Planetary Science gave new support to this idea. The study reported on the analysis of samples collected by the Stardust satellite in 2004 from the tail of the comet Wild 2. The researchers found that glycine, a tiny amino acid, was found in the dense cloud of dust and gas around the comet's tail.

"Glycine is an amino acid used by living organisms to make proteins, and this is the first time an amino acid has been found in a comet," said NASA researcher Jamie Elsila.

"Our discovery supports the theory that some of life's ingredients formed in space and were delivered to Earth long ago by meteorite and comet impacts."

"Based on the foil and aerogel results it is highly probable that the entire comet-exposed side of the Stardust sample collection grid is coated with glycine that formed in space," said NASA researcher Daniel Glavin.

The Stardust findings also suggest that life may be more widespread throughout the universe than previously assumed.

"The discovery of glycine in a comet supports the idea that the fundamental building blocks of life are prevalent in space, and strengthens the argument that life in the universe may be common rather than rare," said Carl Pilcher, director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute.

Have we already colonized other worlds?

Scientists are also exploring the converse idea: that asteroid impact onto earth could have launched life from our plant into outer space, and potentially allowed it to colonize other parts of our solar system. A 2011 computer simulation conducted by researchers from the National Autonomous University of Mexico suggested that normal asteroid impacts could launch earth life not just to Mars, but as far as Jupiter and its moons.

Of course, only incredibly hardy life forms could survive the trip through space. But research into so-called "extremophiles" is increasingly showing that earth is actually filled with microorganisms that are tough enough to pull it off.

"There are viable bacterial spores that have been found that are 40 million years old on Earth - and we know they're very hardened to radiation," said Steinn Sigurdsson, an astrophysicist from Pennsylvania State University.

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