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Every meteorite that falls to Earth has an incredible story to tell about its extraterrestrial origins and interplanetary adventures. That’s particularly true of the 4.5 billion-year-old space rocks known as Monahans and Zag, which respectively landed in Texas and Morocco in 1998. Soon after their recovery, scientists detected microscopic pockets of water and halite (rock salt) crystals in the meteorites—a direct window into an ancient briny world from the solar system’s infancy.

Now, an extensive analysis of the meteorites led by Open University astrobiologist Queenie Chan reveals that these alien salt crystals contain organic matter, or “life’s precursor molecules,” as the team put it. These carbon compounds provide new insights into the distribution of prebiotic materials in the early solar system, while shedding light on the meteorites’ protracted and occasionally bumpy voyage to Earth.

The paper, out Wednesday in Science Advances, also marks the first time scientists have found organics in extraterrestrial samples that still contain liquid water, Chan told me over email. This is significant because water and organic matter are the key ingredients for life as we know it, and the paper suggests they may have been widespread on primitive worlds in the ancient solar system.

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Category: Science