Life’s building block found in a comet

August 17, 2009 22:46 by scibuff

NASA scientists announced that the analysis of sample materials returned to Earth by the capsule from the Stardust spacecraft whose primary mission was to investigate the coma of comet Wild 2 revealed the presence of Glycine – the smallest of the 20 amino acids commonly found in proteins and one of the most fundamental building blocks of life. The discovery supports the hypothesis that the basis ingredients of lifeĀ  have been brought to our planet by comets (and meteorites).

Although Glycine was found in the Wild 2 samples earlier, scientist were not able to rule out a possible contamination by sources on Earth. Only the recent analysis of isotopes of carbon (basic building blocks of all organic molecules) revealed concentrations of Carbon-13 too high to have originated on our planet, thus proving the extraterrestrial nature of the molecules.

The Stardust interplanetary spacecraft was launched at 21:04:15 UTC on February 7, 1999. On January 15, 2006 Stardust flew by the Earth and released a capsule with sample material. Currently, it is en route to the comet Tempel 1 with a scheduled fly by on February 14, 2011.

The Stardust spacecraft is launched on a Delta II rocket from Launch Pad 17-A, Cape Canaveral Station on February 7, 1999 at 21:04:15 UTC - Photo Source: NASA

The Stardust spacecraft is launched on a Delta II rocket from Launch Pad 17-A, Cape Canaveral Station on February 7, 1999 at 21:04:15 UTC - Photo Source: NASA

NASA's Stardust sample return capsule successfully landed at the U.S. Air Force Utah Test and Training Range at 10:10 UTC on January 15, 2006 - Photo Source: NASA

NASA's Stardust sample return capsule successfully landed at the U.S. Air Force Utah Test and Training Range at 10:10 UTC on January 15, 2006 - Photo Source: NASA

Image of Comet Wild 2 from NASA's Stardust spacecraft - Photo Source: NASA/JPL

Image of Comet Wild 2 from NASA's Stardust spacecraft - Photo Source: NASA/JPL

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