On this date in 1969, a fiery object that would become known as the Murchison meteorite appeared in the sky over the town of the same name in Australia. According to the U.S. Geologic Survey’s database, the object split into three pieces, and then disappeared in a cloud of smoke. 30 seconds later, residents of the area felt a tremor. One chunk of the meteorite crashed through the roof of a barn, while other pieces were scattered across an area of eight square miles. Scientists eventually recovered more than 100 kilograms—about 220 pounds—of the object, which became one of the most studied meteorites in history.
When a team of American scientists did a chemical analysis of the 4.5 billion year-old rock, which dated back to the formation of the solar system, they found scores of amino acids, organic compounds that figure in many metabolic processes. At first, they thought that they might have contaminated the sample. But further examination revealed that while some were L-type amino acids commonly associated with life on Earth, an almost equal amount were D-type, which is rare on this planet. Subsequent analysis optical properties and isotope content of the amino acids proved that they were not of Earthly origin.
In December 1970, this New York Times article reported their findings with the eye-catching headline: “METEORITE HINTS SPACE LIFE IS POSSIBLE.” Since then, researchers have continued to study the meteorite, and more advanced instruments and processes have yielded more surprising revelations. In February 2010, this Scientific American article reports, a German researcher using high-resolution mass spectrometry on three pieces of the meteorite found that it contained at least 14,000 and possibly as many as 50,000 unique organic compounds. While some scientists originally thought that the meteorite was a possible indication that life forms exist or existed elsewhere in the solar system, the speculation now seems to have shifted to another, even more intriguing possibility—that life on Earth may actually have been triggered by precursors that arrived here on ancient meteors.
And while you’re chewing on that, here are the science and technology stories of the day.
How safe is the Segway? This new study on ER cases involving injuries to users of the personal mobility device is being published, by eerie coincidence, on the heels of a fatal accident involving the company’s British owner.
Malaysian astrophysicist denies that she is UN’s new ambassador for extraterrestrials. Seriously, she’s giving a speech at a conference about the need to prepare for encounters with near-Earth objects, not alien civilizations. Serves you right for believing everything you read in the Daily Mail.
Neanderthals made their own tools, research shows. A study of Neanderthals who lived in Italy 40,000 years ago reveals that the species didn’t borrow the technology from Homo sapiens, as some suspected. And apparently, they didn’t have a Home Depot within driving distance.
Viagra may be useful in fighting cancer. It apparently boosts the effectiveness of chemotherapy, while reducing side effects. And as a bonus, you’re always prepared for that, ah, special moment.
Brain can change which hand you favor. Magnetic stimulation can make you reach for the coffee cup with your left hand instead of your right, study reveals.
Nanoneedle can inject cell nucleus. This could lead to new insights about what goes on inside cells.