“Precious particles” popping in again?
SETI may be perpetually frustrated in its search for extraterrestrial intelligence, but at least it got to celebrate Earth Day by mounting a Search for Extra-Terrestrial rocks. On April 22, sonic booms announced the arrival of a minivan-sized meteorite into earth’s atmosphere practically in the SETI backyard, breaking up with high heat and dropping its remains over the Sierra Nevada mountains near Sacramento, California.
Led by SETI astronomer Peter Jenniskens, scientists from NASA and SETI rapidly mounted a search effort to recover chunks. The small ones found so far at Henningsen-Lotus State Park near Sutter’s Mill reveal the meteorite to be the rare CM carbonaceous type. Dubbing the carbon-containing chondrite the “Sutters Mill Meteorite,” they hope to find large pieces in which they can search for alien organic compounds.
Sutters Mill is aptly named as it represents a potentially rich resource for scientists. This is the same kind of meteorite as the famous Murcheson meteorite that fell over Australia in 1969. Murcheson proved organic compounds could come from space to earth. The organics existed in both mirror image forms—typical of non-biologic origin—and showed a predominance of carbon isotopes inconsistent with terrestrial origin. Evolutionary scientists consider carbonaceous chondrites a source of organic compounds that seeded the early earth, providing raw material to get the chemical origins of life underway.
“This is the meteorite you want to find!” exclaimed Jenniskens. “This particular type of meteorite—that forms only 1.5 percent of all falls—is really interesting for research at the SETI Institute and NASA. The material carried in this type of meteorite is what made life possible on Earth. The carbon atoms that your body is made out of, and all life on Earth is made out of, arrived on our planet shortly after its formation via meteorite impacts and comet impacts.”
Scientists are eager to find larger pieces before the compounds inside have time to react with earth’s environment.
Scientists are eager to find larger pieces before the compounds inside have time to react with earth’s environment. Because a fragment of even one kilogram speeding to earth with “residual cosmic speed” would leave a crater, they chartered a zeppelin hoping to spot fragments from the air. The trajectories of incoming fragments are random, making their landing sites unpredictable. So far no pieces larger than 19 grams (0.7 ounce) have been recovered.
Sutters Mill Meteorite fragments represent another kind of riches. “The meteorites are invaluable to science but on the open market can also fetch $1,000 a gram, or more for larger, pristine pieces.”1 Some lucky locals have already cashed in and others are pondering their plans.
So what do scientists hope to learn from the meteorite? By gathering information about organic chemicals some think seeded earth, they hope to gain insight into the chemical origins of life on earth and possibly in outer space. For example, we recently discussed one scientist’s ideas about the implications of a slight imbalance in the chirality of the Murcheson organics (see Dinosaur Aliens). And nucleobases—vital parts of DNA and RNA—as well as amino acids and other alien organics have definitely been found in meteorites. Yet even if alien organic compounds had been dropped on the earth, nothing in nature has shown how living organisms could randomly emerge from non-living chemicals. The origin of life took place in the unobservable past and cannot be subjected to objective scientific testing.
God tells us in the Bible He formed the earth, the plants and animals, and the rest of the universe from nothing. Then He made Adam from the dust of the ground and Eve from part of Adam. God required no alien organics to help Him get started with His Creation. Neither did He require vast amounts of alien raw material.
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