Posted on December 3rd, 2019

Out of this World – Asteroids!

Researchers found ribose on this little meteorite. Next to the meteorite is a model of the ribose molecular structure, for all my nerds out there. (Credits: Yoshihiro Furukawa)

Life! We are all very curious about where we come from and how we got here. It’s a well-established theory that the components for life are meandering aimlessly around the solar system in the form of asteroids. Well, some meander in the Asteroid Belt and Kuiper Belt, others cruise solo through the solar system in strange orbits around the Sun. In the early days of Earth, when it was bombarded by asteroids, they may have provided the elements needed to grow humans out of gooey organic material. Or, if we subscribe to the Alien Prometheus theory, an alien turned itself into sludgy goo, supplying its DNA for our use. We’ll stick to the former theory here.

A team of researchers recently studied meteorites for sugars. Not by licking the meteorite, that would be weird. They found ribose and other sugars on two carbon-rich meteorites. Ribose is an important component of RNA, believed by many to be the precursor to DNA. Over millions of years, RNA may have evolved into DNA after it came in contact with the Earth. RNA is still working away in our bodies today, delivering messages and copying genetic information from DNA.

While the theory of life proliferating from asteroid collisions isn’t new, these new findings bolster the theory and provide insight into DNA evolution. It also reinforces that life is not singular to this planet and out there, in the vastness of the Universe, other planets have the conditions to turn these ingredients into complex organisms.

Composite image of Arrokoth by the New Horizons Spacecraft. (Credit: NASA/ Southwest Research Institute)

Speaking of asteroids and the Kuiper Belt, New Horizons is still zipping through the solar system at a jaunty pace. The last major coolness from New Horizons was its flyby of Pluto in 2015. It picked up incredible images of the far off planet. Since then, it has flown further into the Kuiper Belt, its sights on a large object chillin’ in the cold, dusty region housing remnants from the creation of the solar system.

In a surprisingly sensitive and inclusive move, the NASA New Horizon’s team asked permission from the Powhatan Tribe to name the object Arrokoth. Not just because it sounds awesome, but because it means “sky” in the Powhatan/Algonquian language. Both the Hubble Telescope, used to initially identify the object, and the New Horizons mission operate out of Maryland, a significant region to the Pawhatan people. Naming the object Arrokoth is an honor bestowed by the tribe and a nod to their enduring legacy. Kudos for not giving it your last name and avoiding cementing yourself as a massive tool.

Arrokoth is comprised of two lobes that probably orbited each other before they merged. Data from this wonky object will help researchers better understand the early solar system and its formation.

Katie Nelson
Geospatial Ninja
(303) 718-7163
katie@apollomapping.com

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