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ice photochemistry as a source of amino acids and other organic molecules in meteorites, and implications for the origin of life and the search for life in the solar systemThe tons of extraterrestrial organic material that come to the Earth every day probably helped to made the Earth habitable, and possibly played a role in the origin of life. At the astrochemistry lab (http://www.astrochem.orq) we investigate the formation and distribution of organic molecules in space and consider the impact such molecules may have on the habitability of planets and the search for life in the Solar System. The organic compounds in meteorites include amino acids, aromatics of various sorts including purine and pyrimidine bases, and fatty acids that form bi-layer vesicles. The origin of many of these species remains mysterious, but in recent years we and others have performed experiments that suggest low temperature radiation chemistry could account for the presence and deuterium enrichment of many of these molecules. . I will present our laboratory experiments that show the viability of low temperature radiation chemistry as a source of organic molecules such as;amino acids (Nature, 2002, 416, 401-403), amphiphiles (Astrobiology, 2003, 2, 371, Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. 2001, 98, 815), quinones (Science, 1999, 283, 1135) and other functionalized aromatic compounds (Meteoritics, 2001, 36, 351 ; Astrophysical Journal., 2003, 582, L25), some of which were invoked as potential biomarkers in the Alan Hills 84001 Martian meteorite. Understanding how components of proteins and DNA could form in sterile space environments is also of relevance to our search for life elsewhere in the Solar System, the great task now ahead of NASA. If we find evidence of Life elsewhere in the Solar System it will probably be in form of chemical biomarkers, quintessentially biological molecules that indicate the presence of micro-organisms. While most people think of molecules such as amino acids, and nucleo-bases as good candidate biomarkers, these molecules are produced non-biotically in space and are expected to be present on the surface of other planets even in the absence of Life. Understanding the range of non-biological organic molecules which could act as false biomarkers in space is a prerequisite for any reasonable search for Life on other worlds.
Document ID
Document Type
Conference Paper
Bernstein, Max
(NASA Ames Research Center Moffett Field, CA, United States)
Date Acquired
August 23, 2013
Publication Date
January 1, 2005
Subject Category
Funding Number(s)
OTHER: 21-344-58-2B
Distribution Limits
Work of the US Gov. Public Use Permitted.