From a Distant Comet, a Clue to Life

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For the first time, a building block of proteins — and hence of life as we know it — has been found in a comet.

That adds to the prevailing notion that many of the ingredients for the origin of life showered down on the early Earth when asteroids (interplanetary rocks orbiting the inner solar system) and comets (dirty ice balls that generally congregate in the outer solar system beyond Neptune) made impact with the planet.

In the new research, scientists at the Goddard Space Flight Center, in Greenbelt, Md., detected the amino acid glycine in comet bits brought back in 2006 by the NASA space probe Stardust.

“It tells us more about the inventory of organics in the early solar system,” said Jamie Elsila, an astrochemist at Goddard who led the research...

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