David Shiga writes on New Scientist:
Life may have been built on a foundation of cyanide formed in the fiery wakes of asteroids plunging through Earth’s atmosphere, high-speed impact experiments suggest.
Earth was probably not born with much in the way of organic material – the complex molecules containing carbon that life requires. It formed too close to the sun for such compounds to condense from the swirling primordial disc of gas and dust.
One possibility is that organic matter formed on Earth after the planet coalesced, for example in chemical reactions induced by lightning arcing through the atmosphere, as experiments by Stanley Miller at the University of Chicago in the 1950s suggestedMovie Camera. But the chemical reactions in this process could happen only in an early atmosphere full of methane and hydrogen, and later studies of the ancient geological record have suggested that was unlikely.
Others have suggested the building blocks came from comets and asteroids that struck Earth, because these objects are known to contain high concentrations of organic material. But the tremendous heat of impact would have burned up much of that material, converting it into simpler molecules like carbon dioxide.
More on New Scientist
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