Feeds

NASA: Extraterrestrial sample holds ingredient for alien life

Definitely not lab contamination, insist boffins

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

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. ®

The Power of One Infographic

More from The Register

next story
World Solar Challenge contender claims new speed record
One charge sees Sunswift travel 500kms at over 100 km/h
SMELL YOU LATER, LOSERS – Dumbo tells rats, dogs... humans
Junk in the trunk? That's what people have
The Sun took a day off last week and made NO sunspots
Someone needs to get that lazy star cooking again before things get cold around here
Boffins discuss AI space program at hush-hush IARPA confab
IBM, MIT, plenty of others invited to fill Uncle Sam's spy toolchest, but where's Google?
Bad back? Show some spine and stop popping paracetamol
Study finds common pain-killer doesn't reduce pain or shorten recovery
Forty-five years ago: FOOTPRINTS FOUND ON MOON
NASA won't be back any time soon, sadly
Jurassic squawk: Dinos were Earth's early FEATHERED friends
Boffins research: Ancient dinos may all have had 'potential' fluff
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Prevent sensitive data leakage over insecure channels or stolen mobile devices.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.