Early Earth was not very hospitable when it came to jump starting life. In fact, new research shows that life on Earth may have come from out of this world.
Lawrence Livermore scientist Nir Goldman and University of Ontario Institute of Technology colleague Isaac Tamblyn (a former LLNL postdoc) found that icy comets that crashed into Earth millions of years ago could have produced life building organic compounds, including the building blocks of proteins and nucleobases pairs of DNA and RNA.
Comets contain a variety of simple molecules, such as water, ammonia, methanol and carbon dioxide, and an impact event with a planetary surface would provide an abundant supply of energy to drive chemical reactions.
“The flux of organic matter to Earth via comets and asteroids during periods of heavy bombardment may have been as high as 10 trillion kilograms per year, delivering up to several orders of magnitude greater mass of organics than what likely pre-existed on the planet,” Goldman said.
Goldman’s earlier work is based on computationally intensive models, which, in the past, could only capture 10-30 picoseconds of a comet impact event. However new simulations, developed on LLNL’s supercomputers Rzcereal and Aztec, Goldman used much more computationally efficient models and was able to capture hundreds of picoseconds of the impacts—much closer to chemical equilibrium.
“As a result, we now observe very different and a wider array of hydrocarbon chemical products that, upon impact, could have created organic material that eventually led to life,” Goldman said.
Read more at: Phys.org