back to article Life began after meteorites splashed into warm ponds of water, say astronomers

Life began on Earth only a few hundred million years after the planet’s surface was cool enough for pools of liquid water to form, according to a new study published today. Astronomers from McMaster University, Canada and the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, Germany have calculated the probability of meteorites carrying …

  1. Tromos

    Why highlight meteorites?

    The article mentions 2000kg containing carbon compounds, therefore somewhat less than 2000 depending on the percentage content. The meteoric contribution pales into total insignificance when compared with dust providing 60000000kg of carbon compounds annually.

    Either the quoted figures are wrong or the seeding of life should be credited to interstellar dust rather than the headline's splashing meteorites.

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: Why highlight meteorites?

      You might say that it is science, and science needs to quantify everything. As such, they are basically highlighting the fact that meteorites are, in their scenario, an almost insignificant factor in the accumulation of carbon compounds on Earth. They just don't say so explicitly.

      1. smartermind

        Re: Why highlight meteorites?

        "Life began after meteorites splashed into warm ponds"...

        That is not science, but biased clickbait. The headline screams the role of "scary", sensational, meteorites rather than cosmic dust. Science is impartial, unbiased, fact and evidence based and not sensationalist... until science manages to clone dinosaurs!

    2. frank ly Silver badge

      Re: Why highlight meteorites?

      The meteorites and large asteroids of the early solar system were probably important for delivering water to ancient earth, with dust delivering carbon compounds. Any delicate carbon compound in a meteorite would probably be vapourised by the impact.

      https://www.newscientist.com/article/2149168-life-may-have-begun-millions-of-years-earlier-than-we-thought/

      1. Pompous Git Silver badge

        Re: Why highlight meteorites?

        "Any delicate carbon compound in a meteorite would probably be vapourised by the impact."
        You've not heard of the Murchison meteorite then?

      2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Why highlight meteorites?

        "The meteorites and large asteroids of the early solar system were probably important for delivering water to ancient earth"

        Why suppose that meteorites and large asteroids would have had water and the early Earth wouldn't? They might have added water but if was around in the early solar system for them to incorporate it was also available for the early Earth.

        1. Martin Gregorie Silver badge

          Re: Why highlight meteorites?

          Not necessarily. If the Earth was formed in its current orbit it would be fairly warm, possibly too warm to collect and retain water vapour from its surrounding space. Meanwhile, asteroids and meteors in elliptical orbits would be much colder and so more capable of retaining any water molecules they encountered.

          1. annodomini2

            Re: Why highlight meteorites?

            The Earth could have chemically formed it's own water + plus water trapped in rocks already here.

    3. AJames

      Re: Why highlight meteorites?

      You are probably correct about the quoted figure being wrong, but we can't check because the paper is behind a paywall. Yay for science!

      1. Sweep

        Re: Why highlight meteorites?

        From behind the paywall:

        "One solution is that the nucleobases were delivered by interplanetary dust particles (IDPs) and meteorites. During these early times, these bodies delivered ∼6× 10(to the power)7 and ∼2× 10(to the power)3 kg⋅y of intact carbon, respectively"

        Those figures are taken from a 1992 paper co-authored by Carl Sagan so that's billions and billions of kgs of carbon.

  2. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

    Life begins when the children are out of the house and the dog is dead.

  3. Pompous Git Silver badge

    The Molecular Biologist’s Dream:

    “Once upon a time there was a prebiotic pool full of β-D-nucleotides. . . .”

    Orgel and Joyce have published extensively on the RNA World hypothesis.

    Prospects for Understanding the Origin of the RNA World

  4. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    " We have provided plausible physical and chemical information about the conditions under which life could have originated. Now it’s the experimentalists turn to find out how life could indeed have emerged under these very specific early conditions.”

    Translation: We've done the easy bit. Can someone put it together?

    In reality we don't have separate DNA, protein and energy handling chemistries. They form an interactive whole. Once the thing is up and working it's easy to see how advantageous chance changes can be preserved. Discovering how a sufficient collection of apparently unlikely changes came together it assemble a self-reproducing system is a different matter.

    1. Primus Secundus Tertius Silver badge

      Well said, Dr Syntax.

      For over 60 years, since the famous experiment by Miller, people have been trying to "put it together".

      Frankly, they have got nowhere. In the book "Genetic Takeover" (Cairns-Smith, 1982) he, as an experienced chemist, points out that an uncontrolled reaction between organic chemicals just yields a filthy tarry mess. None of the experimental work has shown how precisely constructed long molecular chains can be assembled, or how to produce the pure stereochemical L or D isomers needed as a starting point.

      Cairns-Smith proposed that things began with clay, which would answer the L/D question and others, and then organic molecules became associated and eventually took over. This suggestion is not accepted these days - I assume there are good reasons but I am not familiar with them.

      There are other suggestions that life began as sea water, with organic contaminants, penetrated cracks in the earth's crust and interacted with hot silicate minerals.

      Yes, there are experiments that should be done; but I suggest they need to be looking for the kind of two-stage origins of life mentioned above.

      1. Pompous Git Silver badge

        "Well said, Dr Syntax."
        Indeed! Also worth reading is Simon Conway Morris's Life's Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe 2005. If you've read Stephen Jay Gould's Wonderful Life you will recognise him as the hero of that wonderful book.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "Discovering how a sufficient collection of apparently unlikely changes came together it assemble a self-reproducing system is a different matter."

      And yet, the assumption of that process is every bit a leap of faith as religion.

  5. jmch Silver badge
    Trollface

    "Cairns-Smith proposed that things began with clay..."

    So the bible was right!!! :)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      And I thought feet of clay was just a story

      I think we should open some heads and find the scroll of instructions/life inside. (or is that just an interpretation of DNA)

      Pratchett fan..

  6. Slx

    You can see how a lot of people get freaked out by the huge knowledge gap and fill it with religious explanations.

    We are still missing a LOT of the basics about how life began.

    Life seems to me to be almost like some kind of fundamentals natural phenomenon that is linked to how matter and energy tends towards being organised.

    If it's so random that it only occurs when some little clump of carbon based molecules start to behave somewhat logically, then it could be extremely rare or extremely common.

    It's also possible that some of the carbon that's scattered throughout the universe is organised and has those building blocks.

    I'm not sure that we'll arrive at an explanation until we encounter *very* primitive life somewhere else

    1. Chemical Bob

      "You can see how a lot of people get freaked out by the huge knowledge gap and fill it with religious explanations."

      God always exists right past the end of one's 'knows'...

      At least now most of us don't freak out when an eclipse happens.

    2. handbiter

      But surely when the scientific knowledge gap gets filled religious people are simply going to ask "who put the components there in the first place"? What is the answer to their question?

      1. Francis Boyle Silver badge

        The answer is "Who put God there in the first place". A bad answer of course but that's because it's a bad question.

        1. handbiter

          Ouch! now my brain is strained. Scientists will be caught out by a questions such as "oh well who put the atom/whatever there" and religious people can't answer "who put God there". Cheers i off to taunt people of God as to who put him there lol.

      2. Chemical Bob

        "What is the answer to their question?"

        The answer to that question waits for another scientific advance. Just like all the other answers.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      fill it with religious explanations==== Why oh why does the religious tosh persist, are they that insecure/weak that they need to think that there is someone "up there" looking after them? The planet would be a far better place if religion DIDN'T exist.

      1. Pompous Git Silver badge

        "The planet would be a far better place if religion DIDN'T exist."
        Just imagine what a better place it would be without religious institutions like hospitals, schools, universities... Yeah, let's get rid of them!

      2. Chemical Bob
        Devil

        "Why oh why does the religious tosh persist, are they that insecure/weak that they need to think that there is someone "up there" looking after them? The planet would be a far better place if religion DIDN'T exist."

        Religion and belief that some deity exists need not be one and the same. Anything that asks and answers "What is wrong with us" and "What do we do about it" is essentially a religion. Yes, I am defining religion as an innate human behavior. Your post asks and answers those two questions which indicates that you have some personal demons to exorcise if you truly wish to be free of this dread disease.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "You can see how a lot of people get freaked out by the huge knowledge gap and fill it with religious explanations."

      You can see how some people assume the self assembly of atoms at the atomic level into life as fact, with no real scientific explanation. Sounds like religion to me.

      1. Pompous Git Silver badge

        "Sounds like religion to me."

        Then a miracle occurs...

  7. Alistair Silver badge
    Windows

    For the dazed and confused, all three of my kids managed to get this down before the age of 10. It isn't perfect, but it covers stuff rather well for a cartoon. I strongly recommend it for youngsters to get the idea of evolution.

    https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/9142875-evolution

    Yes, there's stuff in there that there is still open debate over in the biophysics department, but it does well.

    We've managed to test the idea of what the *minimum* requirements were to build the components of RNA, and we've seen that genetic evolution has a HUGE dependence on "Luck/Chance/random solar flare". What is missing are the concrete details - personally I'm satisfied that we're here based on an incredible string of random chances over an insanely long period of time. It is also what has me convinced that there are very likely many many many other planets out there with their own variation of chemical soup that has acquired self awareness. I just hope that its not the assholes of the universe that get the FTL bit down first.

    As for the concrete details of what happened back then, we'll need the physicists to figure out how to use those gravity waves to bend time so we can look back there.

    (Its stuff like this my mother, uncle and I end up booting around late in the evening over an open fire and makes life *really* interesting)

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      " I'm satisfied that we're here based on an incredible string of random chances over an insanely long period of time."

      No we're just a simulation - sorry, wrong thread.

      1. Pompous Git Silver badge

        "I'm satisfied that we're here based on an incredible string of random chances over an insanely long period of time"
        90 million years is only an insanely long period of time if you haven't studied geology. It's less than 2% of the lifespan of Earth and only half as long as the Mesozoic Era.

  8. Archtech Silver badge

    Old theory, old pattern of behaviour

    That sound you hear is Chandra Wickramasinghe quoting Arthur C. Clarke:

    "Every revolutionary idea seems to evoke three stages of reaction. They may be summed up by the phrases:

    (1) It's completely impossible.

    (2) It's possible, but it's not worth doing.

    (3) I said it was a good idea all along".

    1. Pompous Git Silver badge

      Re: Old theory, old pattern of behaviour

      @ Archtech

      I was amused some years ago when some of Wikramsinghe's students sent a balloon into the stratosphere. It brought back samples of bacteria that couldn't possibly have originated on Earth because no plausible mechanism for them getting there. Atmosphere too thin apparently.

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