Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Bringing Building Blocks of Life to Earth from Space

By David Reneke

New research supports the view that meteorites kickstarted life on Earth, and Australian astronomers have measured how a galaxy’s spin affects its shape.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

How life began on Earth, roughly 4 billion years ago, is one of the great scientific questions. New results from scientists at McMaster University and the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy suggest a key role for meteorites landing in warm little ponds, delivering essential organic molecules that kickstarted the emergence of life in the shape of self-replicating RNA molecules.

The astronomers reached their conclusions after assembling models about planet formation, geology, chemistry and biology into a coherent quantitative model for the emergence of life. The most interesting result from these calculations is that life must have emerged fairly early while Earth was still taking shape.

This, they maintain, was only a few hundred million years after the Earth had cooled sufficiently to allow liquid surface water, such as ponds or oceans. The building blocks of life would have been brought to Earth by meteorites during an era when Earth’s bombardment by such small extraterrestrial rocks was much more intense than today.

Astronomers agree that in order to understand the origin of life we need to understand Earth as it was billions of years ago. As this study shows, astronomy provides a vital part of the answer. The details of how our solar system formed have direct consequences for the origin of life on Earth.

The new work supports the “warm...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.