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Saturday, April 7, 2001 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Meteorite raises questions, fails to yield answers

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To scientists' disappointment, a meteorite that fell on a frozen Canadian lake has been found to contain none of the organic ingredients believed necessary to have initiated life on Earth.

Many scientists think that simple life arose on Earth 4 billion years ago after meteorites crashed through the atmosphere, carrying amino acids and other biochemical compounds from outer space.

The fragments of a 220-ton meteorite that were sprinkled on Tagish Lake in British Columbia in January 2000 had generated scientific excitement because they are of a rare, carbon-rich variety.

However, tests in the United States and England show the pristine bits contain different organic compounds than previously studied meteorites.

It raises the possibility that the debris comes from a very old celestial body that originated in the most distant reaches of the solar system's asteroid belt - a first in meteorite studies.

"We thought we would get all the answers that we wanted," said Arizona State University exobiologist Sandra Pizzarello. "It turned out to be totally opposite of what we were expecting. It has a suite of its own organics."

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