A group of international scientists has detected ‘molecules originating from outer space’, embedded in 3.3 billion-year-old geological formations in South Africa.
The sediments, obtained from the Josefsdal Chert Formation, also contain biogenic carbonaceous matter.
Organic matter from space
As explained by New Scientist, finding extraterrestrial and biogenic carbonaceous matter in the same sedimentary deposits highlights the challenges that scientists are facing when looking for extinct life on Mars.
The finding supports the idea that organic–that is–carbon-based chemicals from space supplied some of the raw materials needed for life to come into existence on Earth.
Frances Westall, a researcher at the CNRS Centre for Molecular Biophysics revealed to New Scientist, “This is the very first time that we have found actual evidence for extraterrestrial carbon in terrestrial rocks. The organic matter from the carbon-rich meteorites must have been raining down at quite a high rate.”
The discovery is of interest since many astrophysicists argue that the very building blocks of life on Earth may have come to our planet hitching a ride on asteroids, and the discovery made in South Africa weights into that theory.
EPR Spectroscopy or Electron paramagnetic resonance enabled scientists to learn that the 3.3 billion-year-old rock comprised two types of insoluble organic matter, both of which imply extraterrestrial origins (the oldest extraterrestrial organic matter ever identified no less).
Two Anomalous Readings
Scientists spotted two strange readings.
The first of the EPR signal was reminiscent of something experts had already seen before when analyzing carbonaceous chondrites: a class of chondritic, ancient meteorites bearing organic compounds.
The second reading identified by experts was suggestive of nanoparticles of nickel, chromium, and iron. But that’s not something unusual seen in rock formations on Earth. It does, however, strengthen the theory that parts of the rock layers analyzed by experts may have originated from other places, located much farther away.
The traces of carbon may have originated from an ancient meteorite that bombarded our planet in the past, and are considered the oldest extraterrestrial organic matter ever discovered on Earth.
But this, of course, does not mean that little green men from outer space walked on th surface of Earth, it just suggests that the building blocks of life may have originated from somewhere in space.
“It is difficult to envisage a single impact event preserving both organic matter and spinel particles in such a thin sedimentary layer,” the authors revealed in their research paper.
“On the one hand, hydrogenated organic matter can survive only if the temperature of the falling matter does not exceed a few hundred degrees. On the other hand, cosmic spinels are formed by a high degree of melting of the object, as it falls towards the Earth’s surface,” the scientists concluded.