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Life-giving glycine found around comet 67P

Scientists believe that the evidence of the amino acid glycine found around 67P/Chryumov-Gerasimenko may suggest comets emit life-giving agents, backing up previous studies that had made this assertion.

glycine

The European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft was able to detect several protein ingredients around 67P, including glycine, marking the first time that the amino acid was found “unambiguously” at a comet. ESA researchers note that they had “repeatedly” found the agent, as well as organic molecules and phosphorus, all of which are used by plants and animals to create proteins. These agents were first spotted in October 2014, as Rosetta was only six miles away from the comet, then again in March 2015, as the spacecraft was flying by the comet’s nucleus.

According to ESA study lead Kathrin Altwegg, the protein ingredients found by 67P “support the idea that comets delivered key molecules for prebiotic chemistry throughout the solar system and, in particular, to the early Earth.” This comes about a decade after astronomers found similar agents on the comet Wild-2, though at that time, the samples had landed on Earth. That meant they couldn’t definitely prove the existence of protein ingredients, something that has changed with the new discovery.

“Glycine is the only amino acid that is known to be able to form without liquid water,” said Altwegg, “and the fact we see it with the precursor molecules and dust suggests it is formed within interstellar icy dust grains or by the ultraviolet irradiation of ice, before becoming bound up and conserved in the comet for billions of years.” She added that the agents found near 67P prove that the comet “really contains everything to produce life,” with energy as the key exception.

“The important point is that comets have not really changed in 4.5 billion years: they grant us direct access to some of the ingredients that likely ended up in the prebiotic soup that eventually resulted in the origin of life on Earth,” commented study co-author Herve Cottin.

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