Feeds

NASA: Extraterrestrial sample holds ingredient for alien life

Definitely not lab contamination, insist boffins

High performance access to file storage

NASA boffins say that they have identified an amino acid, one of the key building blocks of Earth-style life, in material recovered from a comet far out in space. They say this supports the idea that life may be commonly found throughout the universe, and that they have eliminated the chance that the cometary sample has been contaminated by Earthly life.

The sample in question was scooped from the comet Wild-2 in 2004 by the NASA space probe Stardust, which was launched a decade ago in 1999. Having made a close pass to the comet and picked up some of its substance, Stardust then dropped the sample capsule back to Earth in 2006. The main probe, remaining in space, is now to head out again to investigate the comet Tempel-1.

Meanwhile on Earth, boffins analysing the returned "aerogel" collectors soon discovered traces of glycine, an amino acid used by earthly life in building up proteins.

However, "it was possible that the glycine we found originated from handling or manufacture of the Stardust spacecraft itself," according to NASA's Dr Jamie Elsila. The scientists have since carried out isotopic analysis of the carbon in the sample, finding that it contains too much carbon-13 to be from Earth.

"We discovered that the Stardust-returned glycine has an extraterrestrial carbon isotope signature, indicating that it originated on the comet," says Elsila. In his view, this signifies that the basic chemicals from which life can arise may be commonly found beyond the solar system, suggesting that life would be more likely to arise on other worlds.

"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," says Dr Carl Pilcher, Director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute.

There's more from NASA here. ®

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
Elon Musk's LEAKY THRUSTER gas stalls Space Station supply run
Helium seeps from Falcon 9 first stage, delays new legs for NASA robonaut
Solar-powered aircraft unveiled for round-the-world flight
It's going to be a slow and sleepy flight for the pilots
Russian deputy PM: 'We are coming to the Moon FOREVER'
Plans to annex Earth's satellite with permanent base by 2030
LOHAN's Punch and Judy show relaunches Thursday
Weather looking good for second pop at test flights
Saturn spotted spawning new FEMTO-MOON
Icy 'Peggy' looks to be leaving the outer rings
Discovery time for 200m WONDER MATERIALS shaved from 4 MILLENNIA... to 4 years
Alloy, Alloy: Boffins in speed-classification breakthrough
India's GPS alternative launches second satellite
Closed satnav system due to have all seven birds aloft by 2016
Curiosity finds not-very-Australian-shaped rock on Mars
File under 'messianic pastries' and move on, people
Top Secret US payload launched into space successfully
Clandestine NRO spacecraft sets off on its unknown mission
prev story

Whitepapers

Mainstay ROI - Does application security pay?
In this whitepaper learn how you and your enterprise might benefit from better software security.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Mobile application security study
Download this report to see the alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, as well as the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.