back to article Meteorite's tiny secrets reveal Solar System's sodium-rich, alkaline liquid past – a clue to formation of life

Potentially helping to answer the question of how did we all get here, scientists have found evidence of ideal conditions for the formation of microbial life on Earth – sodium-rich, alkaline fluids present in the early Solar System. And where did they find this evidence? In a meteorite formed billions of years ago in the …

  1. John Jennings Bronze badge

    sorry to be pedantic

    the article says

    Calcium, magnesium, and sodium were formed on the meteorite when it was in the Solar System's asteroid belt some 4.5 billion years ago.

    this is extremely unlikely. The elemental salts would have been created, not the elements themselves.

    Interesting though - keep it up!

    1. Scott 53

      Re: sorry to be pedantic

      Don't worry - it's not just you.

    2. MiguelC Silver badge

      Re: sorry to be pedantic

      There's also a quote mentioning "biotic life"

      Don't know any other kind, as biotic literally means relating to or resulting from living organisms (as opposed to abiotic, which is devoid of life)

      1. HildyJ Silver badge

        Re: sorry to be pedantic

        Viruses are abiotic, as are RNA and DNA.

      2. Youngone

        Re: sorry to be pedantic

        I have a packet of organic basil seeds in the garden shed.

        I'll swap you for some inorganic ones if you like. :-)

        1. Rich 11 Silver badge

          Re: sorry to be pedantic

          Several years ago I saw a health foods stall at the local market which was advertising organic water. The stallholder was confused when I asked him what percentage of it was carbonic acid.

    3. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Re: sorry to be pedantic

      Ah, you know what we mean, tsk.

      C.

  2. Scott 53

    Framboidal

    Shaped like a raspberry. Thanks for my new word of the day.

    1. Lotaresco Silver badge

      Re: Framboidal

      Some framboidal deposits are used as biomarkers <Twilight Zone Music> however those are pyrites. So we can relax or feel disappointed as appropriate that it's not evidence of extra-terrene life even though it does give clues about the arrival of amino acids on Earth.

    2. Jolyon Ralph

      Re: Framboidal

      I've heard of slightly-greasy solar atoms, but never framboidal elements.

  3. Timbo

    So, perhaps the Drake equation...

    ...can now be further extrapolated along the lines of...

    "N = the number of civilizations in our galaxy with which communication might be possible (i.e. which are on our current past light cone);

    and

    R∗ = the average rate of star formation in our galaxy

    fp = the fraction of those stars that have planets

    ne = the average number of planets that can potentially support life per star that has planets

    fl = the fraction of planets that could support life that actually develop life at some point

    fi = the fraction of planets with life that actually go on to develop intelligent life (civilizations)

    fc = the fraction of civilizations that develop a technology that releases detectable signs of their existence into space

    L = the length of time for which such civilizations release detectable signals into space"

    So, perhaps we need to add in:

    a) = the fraction of dust particles that have an alkaline composition that turn into clumps of material

    b) = the fraction of clumps of material that have sufficient water within it

    c) = the fraction of water-laden alkaline clumps that just happen to land on a primordial world in an area of space where water is liquid

    It truly does begin to look like we do live in a very "Goldilocks" zone, where despite all the likelihood of life NOT forming, on Earth it did.

    1. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge
      Trollface

      Re: So, perhaps the Drake equation...

      The real Drake equation.

  4. Roger Kynaston Bronze badge
    Pint

    Intriguing

    Top class boffinry. So have one of these though not a Molson.

  5. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    Life must be everywhere

    Our corner of space should not be anything special, so if asteroids are what seeded life on our planet by bringing water and essential minerals, then it has to have happened elsewhere as well. So it should be likely that there are millions of planets that have some of life on them, and of all those millions, there should be at least a few where some form of intelligence has evolved.

    However, from what Kepler and other satellites have discovered, all solar systems do not resemble ours. Many of them have Jupiter-like planets orbiting close to the star. We still don't know how a Jupiter-size planet can form in close proximity to a star, but it may not be impossible. One thing is certain though, if those gas giants formed at a distance from the star, like our Jupiter, and somehow migrated inwards, it would most certainly spell doom for any inner rocky planets. The disruption to their orbits would be fatal, and ejection from the system would be likely.

    On top of that, it is Jupiter that has protected us from the worst (well, mostly), by sweeping a large area clean from asteroids of all kinds. It is still acting as a guardian from Kuiper Belt asteroids, and has even taken a hit for us in recent memory. Rocky planets that develop in systems where there is no gas giant, or worse, where the gas giant develops close to the star, will not have that protection and will continue getting hit for eons. Life will have a hard time surviving in those conditions.

    So maybe, just maybe, we actually are in a somewhat special place after all.

  6. Muscleguy Silver badge
    Boffin

    Amino No!

    Um amino acids don't get you life. Life is things replicating and amino acids and peptides made from them do not replicate.

    The best handle we have on how replicators got started is the RNA World Hypothesis. RNA strings can be both information store and enzyme. So RNA strings can replicate themselves or get together with others to do replication. Proteins made from amino acids only come in later. Possibly even after DNA began to be used as the more stable information store.

    Both the RNA polymerase complex which reads DNA into RNA and the ribosome which reads RNA strings to make proteins are largely made of RNAs. If you take the modern ribosome and strip out all the protein components and some of the more modern RNAs what you have left still makes protein. It is slow and buggy but it works and buggy can have advantages in exploring morphospace in terms of functional variants. Remember some of our genes can be read in different ways (paragraph skipping) producing different variant proteins even today.

    But the RNA only ribosome tells how you bootstrap from a world of RNA replicators to one with proteins as well. RNA may be able to be enzymes but proteins can do far, far more in the enzyme and structural world.

    At what stage did all this get enclosed in a membrane? were not sure but it could have been after proteins. Think pores in black smokers at the mid ocean ridges It's been calculated that temp differences in the pores could act like a PCR machine.

    Today rna strings are very vulnerable in the environment, our fingertips drip rnases all the time. To work with RNA in the lab you MUST wear gloves. Which is why Covid-19 wraps itself in a membrane. Yes it's an RNA virus.

    1. VeganVegan

      Re: Amino No!

      Agree. On top of their fragility in modern times, due to RNAses everywhere, RNA is hydrolyzed under alkaline conditions. So, alkaline != good for the RNA world.

    2. eldakka Silver badge

      Re: Amino No!

      Both the RNA polymerase complex which reads DNA into RNA and the ribosome which reads RNA strings to make proteins are largely made of RNAs.

      From my casual reading, a polymerase is an enzyme, an enzyme is a protein, and a protein is an amino acid residue. Therefore no amino acids, no amino acid residues, no proteins, no enzymes, no polymerase, no replication.

      Note that there is no scientifically accepted consensus on the definition of life. There is onging, current debate on whether, for example, viruses are considered 'alive' or not. About the only consensus is on what basics (in terms of molecules) are needed - but not necessarily sufficient in and of themselves - for life.

    3. Puuru

      Re: Amino No!

      Indeed, my son and his then Prof. were among the early exponents of the RNA World. What got them going was the discovery that some cell processes that could be handled more efficiently by proteins are being handled to this day by RNA structures. They found that these were processes that couldn't be switched from RNA to a protein without killing the cell - and that would have broken the unbroken chain of life on which we (i.e. lifekind) are all built. Ergo, an all-RNA lifeform was probably the precursor to all current DNA/protein life forms. QED.

      Fascinating! (Disclosure: I'm just a simple engineer, so the foregoing is my best attempt to understand what my son was telling me all those years ago.)

  7. ThatOne Silver badge
    WTF?

    "Solar System"?

    > the acidity level of the early Solar System was low, and liquids were kept at around 80 degrees Celsius

    Sounds like a warm wet place, and yet "solar system" is a term for the local star and the planets orbiting it. So what exactly is he talking about? There is mention of the asteroid belt, but I have difficulties imagining liquid water remaining warm (and not evaporating instantly) up there. What did I miss?

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