(Phys.org) —A team of researchers from Arizona State University has found that the space rock known as the Sutter's Mill meteorite had organic compounds in it that have not been found in any other known meteorite.
Sutter's Mill meteorite was seen streaking through the atmosphere above northern California in April 2012. That led to a search by many interested parties for the chunks that survived the intense heat and made their way to the Earth's surface—in all 77 rocks were found and turned over to scientists eager to study their composition—initial testing of some of the specimens revealed few dissoluble organic compounds. Undaunted, the researchers took another approach, applying hydrothermal treatment—a process that is meant to mimic the conditions scientists believe existed on certain parts of the Earth during the time life first emerged. This time, the team reports, the fragments released organic compounds that had never before been seen in a meteorite.
Organic compounds in meteorites (most of which are believed to come from the asteroid belt between Jupiter and Mars) are important to researchers who believe it's possible that life got its start here on Earth thanks to meteorites that carried payloads that added to material found on Earth. Taken together, the ingredients made for the perfect cocktail, eventually giving rise to the mysterious process that resulted in the creation of living organic matter and eventually all the forms of life that came after.
Looking to meteorites as a possible source for life on Earth has come about due to scientists' inability to nail down a rational explanation for the development of life based on theories of how the Earth came to exist. Of course, such theories only move the debate to another arena—if life came here from somewhere else, how did it get started in that other place? Scientists have no answer, but hope studying rocks brought from space will offer clues that may help to someday solve the puzzle.