A space rock shaped like a snowman, which has lurked in the far depths of the Solar System since the formation of the planets, could have sparked life on Earth, scientists say.
The object, named Arrokoth, lies in the Kuiper Belt beyond Neptune and was formed more than four billion years ago when the Sun was still surrounded by a gigantic disc of planet-building material.
It is the farthest, and oldest, object to be visited by a spacecraft and was analysed in January 2019 by Nasa's New Horizons probe, which flew past it after surveying its primary target, Pluto.
Although Arrokoth exists in the icy depths of the Solar System, some nine times farther from the Sun than Jupiter, it still contains organic building blocks, demonstrating that even the most distant objects can hold the seeds of life.
Dr Will Grundy, of the Lowell Observatory at the University of Arizona, who has been analysing the data sent back from the space probe, said: "That these complex organics are so ubiquitous in colder parts of the universe means they are readily available to lead to formation of life.
"Objects like Arrokoth certainly could have delivered them to early Earth from the far edge of the Solar System."
Scientists discovered that Arrokoth is a distinctive red colour, which indicates the presence of tholins, a complex organic gunk, or tar, which forms when organic molecules are blasted by radiation, similar to how crude oil forms, through intense heat and pressure.
Tholins are of great interest to scientists because they are linked to the beginnings of life.
© Daily Telegraph, London