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Cindy Maddera

So PBS has been running the Origins series and Chris and I were able to catch one of the episodes this week. What we saw made us sit up on the edge of the couch in total awe. The episode we caught was talking about early earth, before any form of life. During that time the earth was bombarded with asteroids and comets. Earth was a scary unpredictable place. One impact was so large it broke off enough fragments that eventually formed our moon. But there was no life. So where did the building blocks of life come from? Many scientists believe that the chemicals or amino acids needed to form life were brought to the planet on one of the many asteroids or comets that hit earth. Comets would be the best explanation because it’s basically a big ball of frozen debris. The comet evaporates upon impact, but the left over dust particles get dispersed. Geochemist Jennifer Blank and her research team built a sort of cannon that would simulate a comet impact by placing the sample under pressure. She created a core that could be filled with amino acids and then fired out the cannon. First they wanted to see if the core itself would survive impact and secondly to see what would happen to the amino acids. The cool thing is that not only did the amino acids survive, but they formed together to make up polypeptides (more complex chemicals that make up things like cell walls).

This of course doesn’t prove that life came from comets, but it does prove that it’s a good possibility. Be sure to check out more of the Origins series on your local PBS channel. You're sure to learn something that will completely surprise you.