Ancient Meteorites Guide us to the Early Life of our Solar System

Ancient Meteorites Guide us to the Early Life of our Solar System

The researchers of the University of Manchester perform isotopic analysis of Ancient Meteorites to reveal more information about the origin of our solar system.

Scientists are extremely keen to know about the origin of our solar system and meteors are their best bets in this regard. That’s the reason why a detailed analysis is being performed on all ancient meteorites these days to find anything substantial that could guide humanity about the beginning of life on Earth. Scientists believe that the meteorites, which were formed during the birth of our solar system, might provide them with key clues to find life in other parts of our universe.  A team of researchers from the University of Manchester provided the latest development in this field as they analyzed ‘Chondritic Asteroids’ to find organic materials in them. They stated that it is very much possible that these materials were stored in these meteors during the infancy of our solar system.

The Chondritic Asteroids gave birth to ‘Carbonaceous Chondrites’, which were analyzed by the team of Dr. Romain Tartèse who belongs to the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Manchester. These meteorites had some organic materials whose isotopic makeup of oxygen was examined in this study. The isotopic analysis of a compound reveals its isotopic signature which is extremely helpful in determining the processes which were involved in its formation. This study is quite beneficial for researchers because the origin of the organic materials found inside these meteorites was identified. Some of the key elements found are Oxygen, Carbon, Hydrogen, Sulphur, and Nitrogen.

The first solid materials of our solar system, like water ice, rock, and organics, gave birth to the Carbonaceous Chondrites. Given that, it is nothing less than a blessing to find one on the surface of our planet. The in-depth analysis of these meteorites helps us to understand the formation and evolution of planets over billions of years. For this reason, they are given the title of ‘Time Capsules’. Scientists believe that the presence of organic materials in other planetary systems is very much on the cards if basic chemical processes, like the one we have in our solar system, can produce them.

Only a few percents of the total known meteorites belong to the category of organic carbonaceous chondrites. This rarity adds to the need of studying them. They offer vital information about the methods of planet formation and the evolution they went through over billions of years. Dr. Tartèse referred to the importance of Chondrites in the following words:

“Chondrites are a snapshot of the early Solar System, providing key insights on how protoplanets and planets formed and were processed. Earth is a dynamic planet — processes such as plate tectonics and erosion have erased most of the early Earth records.”

The researching team collected samples for their study from a museum of Paris called the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle. Once they had the samples, the researchers carefully analyzed these ancient meteorites for a span of two years before coming up with their findings. They measured and interpreted the composition of oxygen isotopes in the organics found inside these meteorites. They tried to keep the results as precise as possible to maintain the integrity of their findings. This has happened for the first time ever that a ‘High-Precision Triple Oxygen Isotope Analysis’ of a Carbonaceous Chondrite has been performed.

Prior to that, all the researches were focused on Nitrogen and Hydrogen, which are the other two building blocks of life in organics. Working with Oxygen presented a massive advantage, in comparison to other elements, to the researchers. The fact that it is abundant (10-20% of Chondrite Organics are made up of Oxygen) in these meteorites is crucial for this analysis. Having said that, the most important factor which gives Oxygen supremacy over Nitrogen and Hydrogen is the number of isotopes it has. Both Nitrogen and Hydrogen have two stable isotopes each while Oxygen has three stable isotopes. This offers an extra bit of information to the researchers which helps them to constrain the origin of chondritic organics even further. Dr. Tartèse summed it up beautifully by saying,

“The oxygen isotope pattern was similar to the relationship linking the composition of the Sun, asteroids and terrestrial planets. Therefore, this likely implies that carbonaceous chondrite organics were formed through chemical reactions in the early Solar System, rather than having been inherited from the interstellar medium.”

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