Last January a spectacular fireball crossed British Columbia, witnessed by more than seventy people. A week later Jim Brook found black bits of a meteorite while driving on ice-covered Taglish lake in far northern British Columbia. Brook carefully collected two pounds of the material in a plastic bag and stored it in a freezer. Thanks to his careful handling, scientists have ended up in possession of one of the greatest treasure-troves ever to arrive from outer space.

It turns out that this may be the most primitive matter ever studied. It seems to include pure chemicals from the formation of the solar system, which would make it a stunning four and a half billion years old. The meteor fragments still have a strong sulfur smell, which is an indication of their pristine condition, as the volatile chemicals that cause the odor are usually long gone before a meteor reaches the laboratory.

Fragments of the meteor have been distributed to labs around the world, and a painstaking search for amino acids and other possible organic compounds is being conducted, with results expected within a year.

Lucy McFadden at the University of Maryland described the meteorite as “a treasure trove.” Michael Zolensky, a researcher at NASA’s Johnson Space Center says that his sample contains elemental grains created in the nuclear fire of stars that later exploded.

The metorite is so ancient and so primitive that it may rewrite the early elemetal history of the solar system and offer insights into the formation of life, and even an answer to the question of whether or not the origin of the complex chemicals that make up living creatures was extraterrestrial.

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