Breaking news! The first atomic-resolution images of extraterrestrial molecules. Exclusive images


Another step towards discovering our Solar System. The multinational technology corporation IBM has just made a meteorite discovery, published yesterday in Meteoritics and Planetary Science. 

Meteorites are usual small pieces from an asteroid or comet. Many meteorites reach Earth every year, especially in the desert places of Africa, where an impressive number of meteorites have been discovered over time. Meteorites are studied daily by researchers because they can provide us important information about the Solar System, including its beginning; because meteorites remain in approx. the same form as they were a few billion years ago when they formed. 

Meteorites can also give us information about the origins of life on Earth. They are known that a part of their load is organic matter and most likely they arrived on Earth, playing an important role in the origins of our lives. 

About the recent discovery: 

During the research: 

1. Samples from the Murchison meteorite that fell in Australia in September 1969 were used 

2. The method used is ultraviolet atomic force microscopy (AFM) 

3. It is the first such observation and investigation that has been successful 

4. The research was conducted by a team of multinational researchers, including the IBM Research team in Zurich


AFM is a new method, very sensitive to each molecule, so it has helped researchers find data that is real, concrete, and fast as possible. In the end, the results found the same molecules in this meteorite as the other research. However, it has been shown that the ability of the AFM method to identify a single molecule, "traces of substances that could otherwise go unnoticed by other techniques can be detected", according to the team of researchers. 

Even though the same molecules have already been found in other techniques, it has been found that the new AFM method is much more sensitive, clear in result, fast, so it can be used from now on in such meteorite research, because it can detect substances that other older techniques could not. But an extraordinary result is the image made. The images you see in this article are the first images ever made of extraterrestrial molecules. 

Of course, scientists from NASA and the Tokyo Institute of Technology also contributed to this research. The scientists who participated in this research were Scott Sandford and Aaron Burton from NASA, Henderson Cleaves from the Tokyo Institute of Technology and Gregoire Danger from the University of Aix-Marseille. But besides them, there were a lot of other researchers who contributed to this end result. IBM said "Scott was the one who gave us a sample of the Murchison meteorite."

It wasn't that easy until they got to the end result. The first experiments were to study sublimated molecules directly from unprocessed meteorite powder. This technique is quite difficult and time consuming. Especially since meteorites contain a relatively small amount of organic material and without advanced technique, it is very difficult to observe that organic material. 

We will immediately hear about other new formulas discovered during this research. Diego Peña and Iago Pozo of the University of Santiago de Compostela also devised a method to extract exactly the types of emolecules that were needed and that they thought could be well represented with AFM. Everything went perfectly. 

In the end, the results made by the AFM technique were compared with the latest generation of mass spectrometry data, to which Julien Maillard from the University of Normandy and Carlos Afonso from the University of Aix-Marseille contributed. 

Congratulations to the whole team! 

You can find the study here.

Article by: Andacs Robert Eugen, on 03 February 2022, at 12:51 pm Los Angeles time

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