It’s a Shock: Life On Earth May Have Come from out of This World

A group of international

“These results confirm our earlier predictions of impact synthesis of prebiotic material, where the impact itself can yield life-building compounds,” Goldman said. “Our work provides a realistic additional synthetic production pathway for the components of proteins in our solar system, expanding the inventory of locations where life could potentially originate.”

Comets are known to harbor simple ices and the organic precursors of amino acids. Glycine — the simplest amino acid — was recently confirmed to be present in comet Wild-2.

Goldman’s original work used molecular dynamics simulations to show that shock waves due to planetary impact passing into representative comet mixtures could theoretically drive amino acid synthesis. This synthetic mechanism could yield a wide variety of prebiotic molecules at realistic impact conditions, independent of the external features or pre-existing chemical environment on a planet.

“These results present a significant step forward in our understanding of the origin of the building blocks of life,” Goldman said.

The team found that icy bodies with the same compounds created from comet impacts also may be found in the outer solar system. For example, Enceladus (one of Saturn’s moons) contains a mix of light organics and water ice. The team concluded that it is highly probable that the impact of a comet traveling with a high enough velocity would impart enough Science Daily