Cosmochemistry or chemical cosmology is the study of the chemical composition of matter in the universe
The Universe is commonly defined as the totality of everything that exists, including all matter and energy, the planets, stars, galaxies, and the contents of intergalactic space. Definitions and usage vary and similar terms include the cosmos, the world and nature...

 and the processes that led to those compositions. This is done primarily through the study of the chemical composition of meteorite
A meteorite is a natural object originating in outer space that survives impact with the Earth's surface. Meteorites can be big or small. Most meteorites derive from small astronomical objects called meteoroids, but they are also sometimes produced by impacts of asteroids...

s and other physical samples. Given that the asteroid parent bodies of meteorites were some of the first solid material to condense from the early solar nebula, cosmochemists are generally, but not exclusively, concerned with the objects contained within the solar system
Solar System
The Solar System consists of the Sun and the astronomical objects gravitationally bound in orbit around it, all of which formed from the collapse of a giant molecular cloud approximately 4.6 billion years ago. The vast majority of the system's mass is in the Sun...



In 1938, Swiss mineralogist Victor Goldschmidt
Victor Goldschmidt
Victor Moritz Goldschmidt was a mineralogist considered to be the founder of modern geochemistry and crystal chemistry, developer of the Goldschmidt Classification of elements.-Early life & career:Goldschmidt was born in Zürich...

 and his colleagues compiled a list of what they called "cosmic abundances" based on their analysis of several terrestrial and meteorite samples. Goldschmidt justified the inclusion of meteorite composition data into his table by claiming that terrestrial rocks were subjected to a significant amount of chemical change due to the inherent processes of the Earth and the atmosphere. This meant that studying terrestrial rocks exclusively would not yield an accurate overall picture of the chemical composition of the cosmos. Therefore, Goldschmidt concluded that extraterrestrial material must also be included to produce more accurate and robust data. This research is considered to be the foundation of modern cosmochemistry.

During the 1950's and 1960's, cosmochemistry became more accepted as a science. Harold Urey
Harold Urey
Harold Clayton Urey was an American physical chemist whose pioneering work on isotopes earned him the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1934...

, widely considered to be one of the fathers of cosmochemistry, engaged in research that eventually led to an understanding of the origin of the elements and the chemical abundance of stars. In 1956, Urey and his colleague, German scientist Hans Suess
Hans Suess
Hans Eduard Suess was an Austrian physical chemist and nuclear physicist. He was a grandson of the Austrian geologist Eduard SuessSuess earned his Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Vienna in 1935...

, published the first table of cosmic abundances to include isotopes based on meteorite analysis.

The continued refinement of analytical instrumentation throughout the 1960's, especially that of mass spectrometry
Mass spectrometry
Mass spectrometry is an analytical technique that measures the mass-to-charge ratio of charged particles.It is used for determining masses of particles, for determining the elemental composition of a sample or molecule, and for elucidating the chemical structures of molecules, such as peptides and...

, allowed cosmochemists to perform detailed analyses of the isotopic abundances of elements within meteorites. in 1960, John Reynolds
John Reynolds (physicist)
John Hamilton Reynolds was an American physicist and a specialist in mass spectrometry.-Life:John H. Reynolds was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA. He studied first at Harvard University and, after serving in the Navy during World War II, at the University of Chicago. There, he was...

 determined, through the analysis of short-lived nuclides within meteorites, that the elements of the solar system were formed before the solar system itself which began to establish a timeline of the processes of the early solar system.

In October 2011, scientists reported that cosmic dust
Cosmic dust
Cosmic dust is a type of dust composed of particles in space which are a few molecules to 0.1 µm in size. Cosmic dust can be further distinguished by its astronomical location; for example: intergalactic dust, interstellar dust, interplanetary dust and circumplanetary dust .In our own Solar...

 contains complex organic
Organic compound
An organic compound is any member of a large class of gaseous, liquid, or solid chemical compounds whose molecules contain carbon. For historical reasons discussed below, a few types of carbon-containing compounds such as carbides, carbonates, simple oxides of carbon, and cyanides, as well as the...

 matter ("amorphous organic solids with a mixed aromatic-aliphatic structure") that could be created naturally, and rapidly, by stars.


Meteorites are one of the most important tools that cosmochemists have for studying the chemical nature of the solar system. Many meteorites come from material that is as old as the solar system itself, and thus provides scientists with a record from the early solar nebula. Carbonaceous chondrite
Carbonaceous chondrite
Carbonaceous chondrites or C chondrites are a class of chondritic meteorites comprising at least 7 known groups and many ungrouped meteorites. They include some of the most primitive known meteorites...

s are especially primitive; that is they have retained many of their chemical properties since their formation 4.56 billion years ago, and are therefore a major focus of cosmochemical investigations.

Recent findings by NASA
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is the agency of the United States government that is responsible for the nation's civilian space program and for aeronautics and aerospace research...

, based on studies of meteorites found on Earth
Earth is the third planet from the Sun, and the densest and fifth-largest of the eight planets in the Solar System. It is also the largest of the Solar System's four terrestrial planets...

, suggests DNA
Deoxyribonucleic acid is a nucleic acid that contains the genetic instructions used in the development and functioning of all known living organisms . The DNA segments that carry this genetic information are called genes, but other DNA sequences have structural purposes, or are involved in...

 and RNA
Ribonucleic acid , or RNA, is one of the three major macromolecules that are essential for all known forms of life....

 components (adenine
Adenine is a nucleobase with a variety of roles in biochemistry including cellular respiration, in the form of both the energy-rich adenosine triphosphate and the cofactors nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide and flavin adenine dinucleotide , and protein synthesis, as a chemical component of DNA...

, guanine
Guanine is one of the four main nucleobases found in the nucleic acids DNA and RNA, the others being adenine, cytosine, and thymine . In DNA, guanine is paired with cytosine. With the formula C5H5N5O, guanine is a derivative of purine, consisting of a fused pyrimidine-imidazole ring system with...

 and related organic molecules), building blocks for life as we know it, may be formed extraterrestrially in outer space
Outer space
Outer space is the void that exists between celestial bodies, including the Earth. It is not completely empty, but consists of a hard vacuum containing a low density of particles: predominantly a plasma of hydrogen and helium, as well as electromagnetic radiation, magnetic fields, and neutrinos....


See also

  • Astrochemistry
    Astrochemistry is the study of the abundance and reactions of chemical elements and molecules in the universe, and their interaction with radiation. The discipline is an overlap of astronomy and chemistry. The word "astrochemistry" may be applied to both the Solar System and the interstellar medium...

  • Geochemistry
    The field of geochemistry involves study of the chemical composition of the Earth and other planets, chemical processes and reactions that govern the composition of rocks, water, and soils, and the cycles of matter and energy that transport the Earth's chemical components in time and space, and...

  • Nucleocosmochronology
    Nucleocosmochronology, also known as cosmochronology, is a relatively new technique used to determine timescales for astrophysical objects and events...

  • Extraterrestrial materials
    Extraterrestrial materials
    Most atoms on Earth came from the interstellar dust and gas from which the Sun and Solar System formed. However, in the space science community, "extraterrestrial materials" generally refers to objects now on Earth that were solidified prior to arriving on earth...

External links

Planetary Science Research Discoveries Educational journal with articles about cosmochemistry, meteorites, and planetary science
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