Study co-author Toshimori Sekine, a researcher at the National Institute for Materials Science in Tsukuba, Japan, says he was surprised by the output from the experiment, adding that "there are many additional molecules we found but didn't analyze yet." Lead author Yoshihiro Furukawa, a PhD candidate at Tohoku University in Sendai, Japan, says that in light of the results, "we can say those ocean impact events [were] very effective processes for the production of various biomolecules on the early Earth." He is quick to note, though, that it is unclear how much or how many of these biomolecules would be needed to initiate life.
"It's neat to show that you could harness the energy of impacts to create organic bonds," says Jennifer Blank, an astrobiologist at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif. But she fears that theories of life's origin may never move beyond the hypothetical. "As someone in the general field, one of the frustrations, of course, is that we're never going to know the answer," she says. "But as another mechanism for contributing to the inventory of organic compounds, this is cool."