Meteorite may hold secret to life outside Earth

The Tagish Lake meteorite might have been able to host the very earliest life forms, say researchers, so life might exist elsewhere in the universe.

A meteoritethat crashed innorthwest Canadaalmost seven years ago might have been able to host the very earliest life forms, according to NASA researchers,which opensthe door to the possibility that life could be present elsewhere in the universe.

Mike Zolensky, a cosmic minerologist at the NASA Space Centre in Texas, told CBC Radio the Tagish Lake meteorite is unlike any they have ever examined.

"We always knew it was a rare, very carbon- and water-rich meteorite — and they hardly ever fall on the Earth," said Zolensky. "But we've found since that it's even more unique than that. It's a totally unique meteorite."

Zolensky said tiny bubbles in the rock are organic globules where the universe'searliest life forms could have been able to live, an astonishing discovery from a meteoritethought to be4.5 billion years old — older than the Earth.

"Perhaps these are like little condos arriving on Earth and biology can move in later on," said Zolensky.

"They've survived somehow, intact on an asteroid for over four and a half billion years and where they come from, we don't know. But it's not from around here. It's from somewhere else."

Scientists have speculated life on Earth began somewhere between 3.5and 3.9 billion years ago.

The meteor first attracted attention when a dramatic fireball lit up the early morning skies of the Yukon, northern British Columbia, parts of Alaska, and the Northwest Territorieson Jan. 18, 2000.

Fragments of the meteorite scattered across the Southern Lakes region of the Yukon. A week later, outdoorsman Jim Brook discovered a remnant on Tagish Lake between Atlin, B.C., and Carcross, Yukon.

Brook stored the meteorite in a freezer to keep it intact, a move that helped give researchers a chance to study it before it could be influenced by the environment on Earth.

"This meteorite is unique because it was recovered frozen… and some of these samples came to us still frozen," said Zolensky. "It's never happened before, may never happen again, and will always be a bonanza to science for that reason."