Murchison meteorite

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The Murchison meteorite

The Murchison meteorite is named after the place it fell: Murchison, Victoria, Australia. It is large (over 100 kg) and it was seen falling. It is one of the most studied meteorites, since it belongs to a group of meteorites rich in organic compounds, known as carbonaceous chondrites.

On 28 September 1969 at about 10:58 am, a bright fireball was seen. It separated into three fragments before disappearing, leaving a cloud of smoke.[1] About 30 seconds later, a tremor was heard. People found fragments over an area larger than 13 km², with fragments up to 7 kg. One, weighing 680 g, broke through a roof and fell in hay.[1] The mass is over 100 kg.

The biochemistry[change | change source]

This type of meteorite is rich in carbon.[2] Murchison contains over 15 amino acids.[3] The amino acids found in the Murchison meteorite can be (and have been) synthesised in laboratory experiments. This was done by the action of electric discharge on a mixture of methane, nitrogen, and water with traces of ammonia.[3]

The amino acids were mostly racemic. This means the chirality of their enantiomers are almost equally left- and right-handed. This suggests they are not caused by terrestrial contamination. A complex mixture of alkanes was isolated as well, similar to that found in the Miller-Urey experiment. Serine and threonine, often earthly contaminants, were absent from the samples.

In 1997 research showed that individual amino-acids from Murchison were enriched in the nitrogen isotope 15N relative to their terrestrial counterparts. This confirmed an extraterrestrial source.[4] The organic materials identified included sugar-like compounds (polyols).[5]

Compound class[6] Concentration (ppm)
Amino acids 17-60
Aliphatic hydrocarbons >35
Aromatic hydrocarbons 3319
Fullerenes >100
Carboxylic acids >300
Hydrocarboxylic acids 15
Purines and pyrimidines 1.3
Alcohols 11
Sulphonic acids 68
Phosphonic acids 2

Several lines of evidence show that the inside of well-preserved fragments from Murchison are pristine (not contaminated). A 2010 study identified 14,000 molecular compounds (including 70 amino acids) in a sample of the meteorite.[7][8] There may be 50,000 or more different molecular compositions in the meteorite.[9]

Nucleobases[change | change source]

Measured purine and pyrimidine compounds are in the Murchison meteorite. Carbon isotope ratios for uracil and xanthine show a non-terrestrial origin for these compounds. The results show many organic compounds which are components of life on Earth were already present in the early Solar System. They may have played a role in life's origin.[10]

References[change | change source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 The Meteorite Society database
  2. Planetary science research discoveries: glossary
  3. 3.0 3.1 Nonprotein amino acids from spark discharges and their comparison with the Murchison Meteorite amino acids. Kvenvolden K. et al 1972. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. USA 69, 4, 809-811.
  4. Engel, Michael H. & Macko S.A. 1997 (1997). "Isotopic evidence for extraterrestrial non-racemic amino acids in the Murchison meteorite". Nature. 389 (6648): 265–268. Bibcode:1997Natur.389..265E. doi:10.1038/38460. PMID 9305838. S2CID 4411982.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  5. Cooper, George; et al. (2001). "Carbonaceous meteorites as a source of sugar-related organic compounds for the early Earth". Nature. 414 (6866): 879–883. Bibcode:2001Natur.414..879C. doi:10.1038/414879a. PMID 11780054. S2CID 199294.
  6. Pavel, Machalek 2007. "Organic molecules in comets and meteorites and life on Earth. Department of Physics and Astronomy, Johns Hopkins University" (PDF). Retrieved 2008-10-07. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  7. Doreen Walton (2010). "Space rock contains organic molecular feast". BBC News. Retrieved 2010-02-15.
  8. Schmitt-Kopplin, Philippe; et al. (2009-12-28). "High molecular diversity of extraterrestrial organic matter in Murchison meteorite revealed 40 years after its fall". PNAS. 107 (7): 2763–2768. Bibcode:2010PNAS..107.2763S. doi:10.1073/pnas.0912157107. PMC 2840304. PMID 20160129.
  9. Matson, John (2010). "Meteorite that fell in 1969 still revealing secrets of the early Solar System". Scientific American. Retrieved 2010-02-15.
  10. Martins, Zita et al 2008 (2008). "Extraterrestrial nucleobases in the Murchison meteorite" (PDF). Earth and Planetary Science Letters. 270 (1–2): 130. arXiv:0806.2286. Bibcode:2008E&PSL.270..130M. doi:10.1016/j.epsl.2008.03.026. S2CID 14309508. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-08-10. Retrieved 2008-10-07.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)