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Prebiotic Chemicals-Amino Acid and Phosphorus-In the Coma of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko

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Prebiotic Chemicals-Amino Acid and Phosphorus-In the Coma of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko

Kathrin Altwegg et al. Sci Adv.

Abstract

The importance of comets for the origin of life on Earth has been advocated for many decades. Amino acids are key ingredients in chemistry, leading to life as we know it. Many primitive meteorites contain amino acids, and it is generally believed that these are formed by aqueous alterations. In the collector aerogel and foil samples of the Stardust mission after the flyby at comet Wild 2, the simplest form of amino acids, glycine, has been found together with precursor molecules methylamine and ethylamine. Because of contamination issues of the samples, a cometary origin was deduced from the (13)C isotopic signature. We report the presence of volatile glycine accompanied by methylamine and ethylamine in the coma of 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko measured by the ROSINA (Rosetta Orbiter Spectrometer for Ion and Neutral Analysis) mass spectrometer, confirming the Stardust results. Together with the detection of phosphorus and a multitude of organic molecules, this result demonstrates that comets could have played a crucial role in the emergence of life on Earth.

Keywords: 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko; Origins of life; amino acid; astronomy; chemistry; comets; prebiotic molecules.

Figures

Fig. 1
Fig. 1. ROSINA DFMS mass spectra (9 July 2015) for masses 30, 31, 45, and 75 dalton.
Integration time is 20 s per spectrum. Error bars represent 1-σ counting statistics.
Fig. 2
Fig. 2. Total neutral gas density and glycine abundance (arbitrary units) multiplied by distance squared inbound and outbound during a close flyby on 28 March 2015 as a function of distance from the comet.

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