Pseudo-panspermia (sometimes called soft panspermia, molecular panspermia or quasi-panspermia) is a well-supported hypothesis for a stage in the origin of life. The theory first asserts that many of the small organic molecules used for life originated in space (for example, being incorporated in the solar nebula, from which the planets condensed).[1][2] It continues that these organic molecules were distributed to planetary surfaces, where life then emerged on Earth and perhaps on other planets.[1][2] Pseudo-panspermia differs from the fringe theory of panspermia, which asserts that life arrived on Earth from distant planets.

Background

Further information: Panspermia

Theories of the origin of life have been current since the 5th century BC, when the Greek philosopher Anaxagoras proposed an initial version of panspermia: life arrived on earth from the heavens.[3] In modern times, panspermia has little support amongst mainstream scientists.[4]

Extraterrestrial creation of organic molecules

Interstellar molecules are formed by chemical reactions within very sparse interstellar or circumstellar clouds of dust and gas. Usually this occurs when a molecule becomes ionised, often as the result of an interaction with cosmic rays. This positively charged molecule then draws in a nearby reactant by electrostatic attraction of the neutral molecule's electrons. Molecules can also be generated by reactions between neutral atoms and molecules, although this process is generally slower.[5] The dust plays a critical role of shielding the molecules from the ionizing effect of ultraviolet radiation emitted by stars.[6] The Murchison meteorite contains the organic molecules uracil and xanthine,[7][8] which must therefore already have been present in the early Solar System, where they could have played a role in the origin of life.[9]

Nitriles, key molecular precursors of the RNA World scenario, are among the most abundant chemical families in the universe and have been found in molecular clouds in the center of the Milky Way, protostars of different masses, meteorites and comets, and also in the atmosphere of Titan, the largest moon of Saturn.[10][11]

Evidence for the extraterrestrial creation of organic molecules includes both their discovery in various contexts in space, and their laboratory synthesis under extraterrestrial conditions:

Extraterrestrial organic molecules found in space
Molecule Class Body Notes
Glycine Amino acid Comet NASA, 2009[12]
mixed aromatic-aliphatic compounds Cosmic dust 2011[13][14]
Glycolaldehyde Sugar-related Around a protostar Copenhagen University, 2012[15][16] Precursor of RNA[17]
Cyanomethanimine, Ethanimine Imines Icy particles in interstellar space Precursors of nucleobase adenine, and of amino acid alanine[18]
polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) widespread, 20% of carbon in universe NASA, 2014[19]
Glycine,
Methylamine,
Ethylamine
Amino acid, amines Coma of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko Rosetta Mission, 2016[20]
Laboratory syntheses under extraterrestrial conditions
Molecule Class Conditions Notes
Precursors of amino acids and nucleotides Interstellar medium NASA, 2012, starting from polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)[21][22]
Uracil,
Cytosine,
Thymine
Nucleobases Pyrimidine, outer space NASA, 2015[23]
Peptides outer space, using CO, C, NH3 Materials common in molecular clouds of interstellar medium[24]

Planetary distribution of organic molecules

Organic molecules can then be distributed to planets including Earth both when the planets formed and later. If the materials from which planets formed contained organic molecules, and were not destroyed by heat or other processes, then these would be available for abiogenesis on those planets.

Later distribution is by means of bodies such as comets and asteroids. These may fall to the planetary surface as meteorites, releasing any molecules they are carrying as they vaporise on impact or later as they erode. Findings of organic molecules in meteorites include:

Organic molecules found in meteorites
Molecule Class Notes
Adenine,
Guanine
Nucleobase NASA, 2011[25][26]
Sugars In "primitive meteorites"[27]
Guanine,
Adenine,
Cytosine,
Uracil,
Thymine
Nucleobases 2022[28]


Large Asteroids With Ice And Organic Chemicals
Asteroid Location Notes
24 Themis Asteroid Belt NASA, Jet Propulsion Laboratory,
Near Earth Objects, life on Earth[29]
269 Justitia Asteroid Belt NASA, JPL Small-Body Database[30]

References

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