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Meteorite that fell last year contains surprising molecules

Compounds in space rocks like the one that broke up over California may have helped seed life on Earth

12:30pm, September 9, 2013
meteorite fragments

SPARKING LIFE  Chemical analyses of Sutter's Mill meteorite fragments (one shown) suggest that space rocks hold the molecules necessary for life to develop.

A space rock that lit up the California sky last year has given scientists an unprecedented look at the complex chemistry that probably took place during the solar system’s infancy. Meteorites similar to this one likely delivered the raw materials to Earth that assembled into the molecules of life.

Scientists have been analyzing pieces of the Sutter’s Mill meteorite since it burst apart over northern California on April 22, 2012 (SN: 1/26/13, p. 5). When Arizona State University chemist Sandra Pizzarello and colleagues melted away some minerals with acid, a plethora of sulfur- and oxygen-containing organic compounds were left behind, several of which have never been identified in meteorites before. They detail their findings September 9 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The molecules likely formed several billion years ago in

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