Scientists have discovered 'alien' protein in a meteorite - here's what it means

A team of scientists believe they have discovered the first evidence of an alien protein from a meteorite that struck earth almost 30 years ago.

The research, conducted by Cornell University in the USA, hasn't yet been peer reviewed, but could indicate the first official evidence that we have of life in space.

This is not the first time scientists have found signs of life in outer space connected to meteorites that have fallen to earth. Cyanide, ribose, amino acides, and organic compounds that combine proteins have all been discovered in previous space rocks.

Protein Acfer 086

This time, the researchers revisited meteorites that were discovered in Algeria in 1990. They used state of the art mass spectrometry to identify a protein in a meteorite that previously contained amino acids, called Acfer 086.

Speaking to ScienceAlert, Chenoa Tremblay of CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science in Australia said, "In general, they're taking a meteor that has been preserved by a museum and has been analysed previously. They are modifying the techniques that they're using in order to be able to detect amino acid inside of this meteor, but in a higher signal ratio."

The researchers are calling the new protein "hemolithin". It appears structurally similar to normal proteins but has significant differences indicating that it has yet not been sourced here on earth.

The scientists suggest that the protein structure may have been formed in the proto-solar disk over 4.6 billion years ago.

Does this mean aliens are real?

This discovery isn't conclusive proof that alien life exists, or that we're expecting first contact any time soon - but it does shed light into the science of the building blocks of life.

Recent studies from the International Space Station have indicated that protein should be easier to make in space, due to the lack of gravity.

Tramblay adds, "So we're pretty sure that proteins are likely to exist in space, but if we can actually start finding evidence of their existence, and what some of the structures and the common structures might be, I think that's really interesting and exciting."