Chemical snapshot: Murchison meteorite reveals diversity of early Solar System

Feb 17, 2010 by Lin Edwards report
Murchison meteorite at the The National Museum of Natural History (Washington)

(PhysOrg.com) -- New studies of a meteorite that crashed to Earth four decades ago have found it probably contains millions of organic compounds. The findings shed light on the molecular complexity that existed at or just after the birth of the Solar System.

The Murchison , a carbonaceous chondrite, fell near Murchison in Victoria in Australia in 1969, and is thought to be extremely ancient, possibly even older than the Sun, at 4.65 billion years old. It probably passed through the primordial clouds in the , where it would have collected organic compounds. It was retrieved soon after it landed, which meant there was minimal chance of contamination, and it has been studied by scientists hoping the meteorite would yield clues about the possible on Earth. Leader of the research team, Dr Philippe Schmitt-Kopplin, said the meteorite was like a kind of fossil, and when you try to understand it, you are essentially looking back in time.

Dr Schmitt-Kopplin, from the Helmholtz Centre Munich, in Germany, said he was really excited and amazed at the complexity they found. The meteorite has been investigated many times before, but earlier studies used gas chromatography and mass spectrometry and looked for specific compounds such as .

The current study is the first non-targeted examination of the meteorite, and used high resolution technology such as NMR and ultra-high resolution mass spectrometry. The analysis took a few milligrams of crushed rock from the meteorite’s core, and then extracted the organic compounds with solvents.

Their approach is based on , which Schmitt-Kopplin and his team uses to analyze metabolites in body fluids. The technique attempts to find as many metabolites as possible, and they used the same system on the meteorite. Specifically, the new technique is known as the Fourier transform ion cyclotron resonance/ (FTICR/MS), which enables the scientists to weigh ionized molecules with the accuracy of the mass of an electron.

The resolution of the analysis and the number of signals found makes the study record-breaking. Previous investigations were all targeted and used older technologies, and so the diversity was never discovered before. The results of the analysis identified about 14,000 different molecules in the meteorite, which can be combined in millions of different organic compounds. Schmitt-Kopplin said their calculations and interpolation were “very conservative”. Their findings show the nascent Solar System probably had more molecular diversity than present-day Earth.

The results of the study appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) journal.

Explore further: Obama salutes 45th anniversary of US astronauts' Moon landing

More information: High molecular diversity of extraterrestrial organic matter in Murchison meteorite revealed 40 years after its fall, Philippe Schmitt-Kopplin et al., PNAS February 16, 2010 vol. 107 no. 7 2763-2768, doi: 10.1073/pnas.0912157107

Related Stories

One-of-a-kind meteorite unveiled

Apr 22, 2006

The depths of space are much closer to home following the University of Alberta's acquisition of a meteorite that is the only one of its kind known to exist on Earth! What makes it so rare? The meteorite is 'pristine' – ...

Scientists Find Clues to a Secret of Life

Mar 17, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- NASA scientists analyzing the dust of meteorites have discovered new clues to a long-standing mystery about how life works on its most basic, molecular level.

Recommended for you

Heat testing the miniature Aausat 4 satellite

2 hours ago

The miniature Aausat satellite undergoes repeated temperature variations in a vacuum chamber, cooling the CubeSat to –10°C and heating it to +45°C for more than two weeks. This harsh baptism will make ...

New meteor shower "just a memory" of what once was there

2 hours ago

The weak display of last month's Camelopardalids meteor shower, the result of the close passage of comet 209P/LINEAR, may have disappointed backyard observers, but this never-before-seen shower now has scientists ...

New launch date set for ISS delivery vessel

19 hours ago

A robot ship will be launched from Kourou, French Guiana, after a five-day delay on July 29 to deliver provisions to the International Space Station, space transport firm Arianespace said Tuesday.

The heart of an astronaut, five years on

20 hours ago

The heart of an astronaut is a much-studied thing. Scientists have analyzed its blood flow, rhythms, atrophy and, through journal studies, even matters of the heart. But for the first time, researchers are ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Graeme
5 / 5 (1) Feb 18, 2010
We are being teased, what are some of the newly found compounds?