Scientists have discovered liquid water on ancient meteorites, sparking renewed hope for life beyond planet earth.
The researchers uncovered both water and organic compounds on two meteorites, which date back 4.5 billion years.
The meteorites actually fell to earth almost 20 years ago, but technology at the time couldn’t pick up the trace materials.
Thanks to a joint effort between the UK’s Open University and the NASA Johnson Space Center in Texas, it was possible to find new evidence from the rocks.
Scientists examining them used high-sensitivity mass spectrometers, which makes it possible to detect different molecules based on their size.
They also used NanoSIMS equipment, which allowed the researchers to study the chemical make-up of materials from the space debris.
Studying the meteorites this way revealed amino acids — basic building blocks for life, which contain hydrogen, carbon and liquid water.
The amino acids were found inside salt crystals, but special care had to be taken not to contaminate them.
Lead scientist Dr. Queenie Chan said: “We conducted our experiments in one of the cleanest laboratories in the world.”
She said this helped avoid “any contamination from things such as dust in the air.”
Chan, who is a postdoctoral researcher at the Open University, said that each salt crystal measures around two millimeters and is colored blue like sapphire.
She describes each crystal as “a little package full of organic compounds and the necessary building blocks of life.”
Those hoping for signs of extraterrestrial life are also in luck, according to Chan.
“What’s even more incredible is that the salt crystals from both meteorites are believed to be from the largest asteroid in the asteroid belt, Ceres, which suggests that it could be a suitable place for the formation of life.”
The research also suggests the possibility that the salt crystals may originally be from somewhere other than the meteorites.
“We believe that the salt may have originated in Ceres or some other carbon-rich asteroid body, while the meteorites come from a different parent body — one that has been heated to 950C so any trace of liquid water present in it would have gone.”
“This proves to us the salt crystals and the meteorites come from two different asteroids.”