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Comet visible beginning Thursday

By Justin Fujioka
Published On: Mar 06 2013 09:30:00 PM HST

A comet discovered by and named for a University of Hawaii telescope two years ago will be visible here beginning Thursday.

HONOLULU -

A comet discovered by and named for a University of Hawaii telescope two years ago will be visible in the Northern Hemisphere beginning Thursday.  And now, there's new evidence that this may be where life on Earth began.

A new study just out from chemists at UH Manoa and the University of California, Berkeley, reveals that the foundation of life could have been created on comets then carried to Earth.

UH chemistry professor Ralk Kaiser and his local research partner Seol Kim used a machine to simulates a comet -- its chemical makeup and temperature, along with the vacuum in space.

To imitate cosmic rays in space, Kaiser and Kim zapped the chemicals with high-energy electrons.  Tests were also done by three other researchers in Berkeley.

The reaction formed complex compounds, specifically dipeptides.

"Dipeptides are building blocks of protopeptides and also of enzymes and enzymes are very important organic and bio molecules in life as we know it on our own planet," Kaiser said.

This discovery means that it's possible that a comet or asteroid brought these molecules to Earth.  Or even to other planets.

"So there is also a chance if these comets impacted on earth-like planets, they might have delivered the prerequisite for life as we know it also to other planets," said Kaiser.

But Kaiser says there is more research to be done, because comets and asteroids impact Earth at a very high rate of speed, "So we have to find out, can the dipeptides really survive and how many percent of the dipeptides can survive?"

As far as that visible comet, it's called Pan-STARRS.  Look for it in the west, just to the left of the point on the horizon where the sun sets, shortly after sundown.  Best viewing days should be Sunday through Wednesday.

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