Prebiotic chemicals—amino acid and phosphorus—in the coma of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko

Kathrin Altwegg, Hans Balsiger, Akiva Bar-Nun, Jean-Jacques Berthelier, Andre Bieler, Peter Bochsler, Christelle Briois, Ursina Calmonte, Michael R. Combi, Hervé Cottin, Johan De Keyser, Frederik Dhooghe, Bjorn Fiethe, Stephen A. Fuselier, Sébastien Gasc, Tamas I. Gombosi, Kenneth C. Hansen, Myrtha Haessig, Annette Jäckel, Ernest Kopp, Axel Korth, Lena Le Roy, Urs Mall, Bernard Marty, Olivier Mousis, Tobias Owen, Henri Rème, Martin Rubin, Thierry Sémon, Chia-Yu Tzou, James Hunter Waite, Peter Wurz

Science Advances
Vol 2, No. 5
27 May 2016 : e1600285 CCBY-NC


“The importance of comets for the origin of life on Earth has been advocated for many decades. Amino acids are key ingredients in chemistry, leading to life as we know it. Many primitive meteorites contain amino acids, and it is generally believed that these are formed by aqueous alterations. In the collector aerogel and foil samples of the Stardust mission after the flyby at comet Wild 2, the simplest form of amino acids, glycine, has been found together with precursor molecules methylamine and ethylamine. Because of contamination issues of the samples, a cometary origin was deduced from the 13C isotopic signature. We report the presence of volatile glycine accompanied by methylamine and ethylamine in the coma of 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko measured by the ROSINA (Rosetta Orbiter Spectrometer for Ion and Neutral Analysis) mass spectrometer, confirming the Stardust results. Together with the detection of phosphorus and a multitude of organic molecules, this result demonstrates that comets could have played a crucial role in the emergence of life on Earth.”