Delivery of prebiotic compounds to early Earth from an impacting comet is thought to be an unlikely mechanism for the origins of life because of unfavourable chemical conditions on the planet and the high heat from impact. In contrast, we find that impact-induced shock compression of cometary ices followed by expansion to ambient conditions can produce complexes that resemble the amino acid glycine. Our ab initio molecular dynamics simulations show that shock waves drive the synthesis of transient C–N bonded oligomers at extreme pressures and temperatures. On post impact quenching to lower pressures, the oligomers break apart to form a metastable glycine-containing complex. We show that impact from cometary ice could possibly yield amino acids by a synthetic route independent of the pre-existing atmospheric conditions and materials on the planet.
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