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Did a recent meteor hit bring us closer to the origin of life on Earth?


Friends had some doubts, reading this story:

The finding can help shed light on the origin of life on Earth, which might have been spurred in part by the delivery of organic compounds inside meteorites like Hamburg.

On a dark winter night in 2018, hundreds of people across the Great Lakes region witnessed a radiant meteor brighten the skies. Mere days after the fireball streaked overhead on that night in January, scientists were able to track down precious pieces of the ancient space rock using weather radar reports.

The scattered remnants of the object, known as the Hamburg meteorite, contain a “high diversity” of extraterrestrial organic compounds that are preserved “in a pristine condition,” according to a study published on Tuesday in the journal Meteoritics & Planetary Science. The finding can help shed light on the origin of life on Earth, which might have been spurred in part by the delivery of organic compounds inside meteorites like Hamburg.

Becky Ferreira, “Pristine’ Extraterrestrial Organic Compounds Found on Meteorite That Fell on Frozen Lake” at VICE

Here’s the open access paper.

One of them, Timothy Standish, gave us permission to post his comments:

I’m not sure why this article so effectively brings out the grump in me. Maybe it is because I hate seeing the same movie twice or reading the same book more than once. I’ve read this article a thousand times before, or so it feels. It is so expansive in its claims, but doesn’t provide the most basic of details to back them up. There is lots of guff about how the meteor fragments were found and how good they are, but all we hear about the magic potion they are supposed to have contained is that they were hydrocarbons, some of which included nitrogen or sulfur. If these were the building blocks of life, were there amino acids present? Were they biased toward one or another chirality? Was the sulfur found in cysteine? Were there sugars? Was there that weird mix of different oxidation states that organic molecules found in living things exhibit? Were there any nitrogenous bases? How does this collection of “hydrocarbons” match up with the many origin of life models out there?

So many obvious questions that even someone who took high school biology and chemistry should naturally be asking are left unanswered. My suspicion is that this is because, once again, the expansive theorizing around OOL is contradicted by the actual data. So, to keep the big idea afloat, only that smidge of evidence consistent with one theory about OOL is presented. It certainly doesn’t sound like “the whole truth and nothing but the truth,” but even that can’t be judged given the lack of useful information provided in this article, which reads more like a propaganda piece than useful information. I wasted five minutes of my life reading something and know less at the end than I did at the beginning.

Yeh. So much science writing in the age of naturalism is like that.

And then our physics color commentator Rob Sheldon weighed in:

There wasn’t anything there, because, well, it was a slow news day reporting something from 2 years ago. For the record, “H-class” meteorites are the most common meteorites collected, some 40% are H. The sell for $5/gm on eBay.

I haven’t been able to track down the subclass “4”, but I do know that for carbonaceous chondrites, the number indicates the maximum temperature sustained by the meteorite. C1 have never been above 100C for example, whereas C4 are French roasted.

So the only “newsworthy” item in this press release, is that surprisingly hydrocarbons were found on a rocky meteorite that had been heated greatly.

But if you want to look at meteorites that have a chance at biomolecules, check out C1-C3 carbonaceous chondrites. They also sell for $1000/gm.

Plus, Rob Sheldon wrote back to say,

I did a price check on Sutter’s Mill meteorite, which was a C2, it was selling for $1500 to $2000/gm.

Holy Kazootski! Crack cocaine just died of envy. No closer to the origin of life.

I've never understood why life simply HAD to originate elsewhere. If another planet had the conditions to evolve life, and Earth had the conditions to evolve life, then it's equally likely that both of them evolved life. Why do we tacitly assume that Earth was blocked from doing its own evolution, while other planets were unblocked? Is it just because Earth contains Deplorables, who couldn't possibly be a product of evolution? Seems to be the best hypothesis. polistra

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