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Glycine, an amino acid, was discovered in a sample from a comet. This image shows four representations of glycine used by chemists.
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Molecule model images courtesy of Ben Mills.

Stardust Finds Amino Acid in Comet Samples

In August 2009, scientists reported finding a type of amino acid in a sample returned from a comet. Amino acids are the building-blocks of proteins, one of the key molecules in living creatures. The comet sample was brought back to Earth by NASA's Stardust spacecraft in January 2006.

Some scientists think that complex molecules which may be precursors to life, like amino acids, might form in space and be brought to Earth by comets. If that is true, life on other planets could be more common than we think. That's why the discovery of an amino acid in the comet sample is interesting.

The sample is from Comet Wild 2, which Stardust flew by in January 2004. A team of researchers led by Dr. Jamie Elsila at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center discovered the simplest amino acid, glycine, in the comet samples. The Stardust spacecraft collected the samples on a strange substance called aerogel as it flew through the tenuous atmosphere of the comet.

Last modified August 27, 2009 by Randy Russell.

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