For The First Time, Organic Matter Crucial For Life Has Been Found on an Asteroid's Surface

New research from Royal Holloway, has found water and organic matter on the surface of an asteroid sample returned from the inner Solar System. This is the first time that organic materials, which could have provided chemical precursors for the origin of life on Earth, have been found on an

The single grain sample was returned to Earth from asteroid ‘Itokawa’ by JAXA’s first Hayabusa mission in 2010. The sample shows that water and organic matter that originate from the asteroid itself have evolved chemically through time.

The research paper suggests that Itokawa has been constantly evolving over billions of years by incorporating water and organic materials from foreign extra-terrestrial material, just like the Earth.


Semi-related - a longstanding problem in science is the so called diffuse interstellar bands (DIBs) which are absorption spectra seen when looking at the Milky Way or other galaxies.

For a long time we were unable to identify any of the sources of the DIBs, and various groups such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons or other large carbon bearing molecules were hypothesised to be their cause, until relatively recently two lines of the DIBs were identified as belonging to C60+ (buckminsterfullerene).

(I did do my honours in chemistry synthesising, computer modelling and measuring the laser spectra of a specific polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon).

Anyway, just putting this out there for interest - there is buckminsterfullerene, and probably many more large scale carbon based molecules out in space.

It’s not clear to me that anything “crucial for life” has been found on this asteroid other than in the sense that elemental carbon is found on it. Last I checked, life isn’t made of graphite(nor of “buckyballs”), nor is it known to be relevant to life’s origin or evolution.

Sure, fair enough.

But it tells us there is a whole bunch of mostly unidentified material in the interstellar medium, of probable carbonaceous origin.

What does “carbonaceous origin” mean? Does it mean “containing carbon”? If so, duh. Carbon is one of the more common elements, and do the words “carbonaceous chondrite” ring a bell here? But that’s not the worst distortion of language. That would be equating some carbon-containing stuff with “organic matter”, much more absurd.

Yeah carbonaceous = carbon containing.

Organic commonly refers to C-H containing compounds, so its not as absurd as you think, and hence why “organic chemistry” deals with chemistry of compounds not necessarily of organic origin.

Organic matter is defined as chemical compounds containing carbon-hydrogen bonds
of covalent character, i.e., with the carbon and hydrogen forming a true chemical bond.

I can’t but think that these folks are using the term “organic matter” to puff up the significance of finding carbon compounds. Elsewhere, “organic matter” and “organic molecule” do not mean the same thing.

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