21 October 2014 Microfossils and biomolecules in carbonaceous meteorites: possibility of life in water-bearing asteroids and comets
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Abstract
It is well established that carbonaceous meteorites contain water, carbon, biogenic elements and a host of organic chemicals and biomolecules. Several independent lines of evidence indicate that the parent bodies of the CI1 and CM2 carbonaceous meteorites are most probably the C-type asteroids or cometary nuclei. Several of the protein amino acids detected in the meteorites exhibit chirality and have an excess of the L-enantiomer -- such as in the amino acids present in the proteins of all known life forms on Earth. Isotopic studies have established that the amino acids and nucleobases in the CI1 and CM2 carbonaceous meteorites are both indigenous and extraterrestrial. Optical and Scanning Electron Microscopy studies carried out by researchers during the past half century have revealed the presence of complex biogenic microstructures embedded in the rock-matrix of many of carbonaceous meteorites similar to extinct life-forms known as acritarchs and hystrichospheres. Carbonaceous meteorites also contain a wide variety of large filaments that exhibit the complex morphologies and correct size ranges of known genera and species of photosynthetic microorganisms such as cyanobacteria and diatoms. However, EDAX investigations have shown that these carbon-rich filaments typically have nitrogen content below the level of detection (<0.5% atomic) of the instrument. EDAX studies of living and dead terrestrial biological materials have shown that nitrogen can be detected in ancient mummies and tissue, hair and teeth of Pleistocene Mammoths. Hence, the absence of detectable nitrogen in the filaments provides direct evidence that they do not represent recent biological contaminants that invaded these meteorite stones after they were observed to fall to Earth. The spectral and fluorescence properties of pigments found in several species of terrestrial cyanobacteria which are similar to some microfossils found in carbonaceous meteorites may provide valuable clues to help search for evidence for biomolecules and life on the icy moons of Jupiter and Saturn, asteroids and comets.
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Richard B. Hoover, "Microfossils and biomolecules in carbonaceous meteorites: possibility of life in water-bearing asteroids and comets", Proc. SPIE 9226, Nanophotonics and Macrophotonics for Space Environments VIII, 922602 (21 October 2014); doi: 10.1117/12.2065571; https://doi.org/10.1117/12.2065571
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