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Our Glaciers: Then and Now activity kit helps you see the changes taking place in glaciers around the world. See all our activity kits and classroom activities.

Exploratour - Life in the Solar System

This is an image of Comet Kohoutek.
Click on image for full size
NASA

Believe it or not, many scientists believe that life may have begun on these distant, solar system traveling objects. Out in their distant home, the Oort Cloud, comets are exposed to the kind of cosmic radiation which provides the energy needed to form long, complex molecules such as amino acids, proteins, and even polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH's). Spectra taken of recent comets such as this one in 1990 reveal the presence of ...

As we've said, because of the severe temperatures, it may take millions of years for these molecules to form, thus precluding the possiblity of the activity of life forms as sophisticated as bacteria. Moreover, there is no atmosphere to speak of in comets in residence in the Oort cloud, and only a transient atmosphere in comets making a perihelion passage. Nevertheless, over the age of the solar system, and because comets making a perihelion passage loose a portion of their friable surface, it is thought that comets may have brought some of life's beginnings to the inner solar system where they could better thrive.

Read more about this possibility by reading our life section. Read more about the sort of unsophisticated life forms found on the primordial Earth by taking the Exporatour of Life on Earth.

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation and NASA, our Founding Partners (the American Geophysical Union and American Geosciences Institute) as well as through Institutional, Contributing, and Affiliate Partners, individual memberships and generous donors. Thank you for your support! NASA AGU AGI NSF