The Sutter’s Mill meteorite that passed over California and Nevada in May of 2012 has been found to contain organic materials by a team of scientists from Arizona State University according to their report in the Sept. 9, 2013, edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The analysis found potentially life forming and initiating molecules never before seen in any other known meteorites including oxygen containing aromatic compounds, polyethers, and esters containing alkyl molecules. Oxygen containing aromatic compounds were relatively abundant in the extracts and included phenol, two methyl-phenols, benzophenone, benzoic acid, and its methyl ester
A few small fragments of the Sutter’s Mill meteorite were exposed to hydrothermal conditions and the resultant gases were analyzed using solid-state nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy and gas chromatography coupled with mass spectrometry.
The hydrothermal conditions mimic conditions that would have occurred on Earth around active volcanoes. Some scientists speculate that these are the regions where life first began on Earth. Cyclic compounds like those found in the Sutter’s Mill meteorite are necessary building blocks for the more complex molecules that make proteins and other compounds essential to life as we know it.
The scientists propose that high temperatures from volcanic eruptions may have produced the release of carbon containing compounds from meteorites that were essential to the initiation of larger molecules that were necessary for the initiation of life on Earth.
This is the first evidence that fairly complex precursors to life on Earth can be extracted from meteorites that have fallen on Earth in modern times.