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A more organic meteorite

Some may contain more formic acid, a precursor to life, than previously thought

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3:48pm, May 26, 2009

TORONTO — New analyses of a meteorite that fell on Tagish Lake in Canada nearly a decade ago suggest that such extraterrestrial bodies may hold much higher concentrations of formic acid, a chemical precursor to life, than previously recognized.

Many simple organic chemicals, including formic acid, have been detected in clouds of dust and gas in interstellar space (SN: 5/1/04, p. 280). But scientists have typically found little if any formic acid in meteorites that formed within similar clouds that coalesced to form the solar system. Robert Hilts, a chemist at Grant MacEwan College in Edmonton, Canada, said it’s probably because the chemical is volatile and evaporates easily at temperatures found at Earth’s surface. Using a technique designed to squelch the evaporation of formic acid during chemical analyses, he and his colleagues have now detected substantial concentrations of the volatile chemical in

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