Vitamin B3 found on Earth might have been made in space and delivered to Earth on meteorites, according to Nasa. The vitamin forms part of a chemical compound that is found in all living cells and is an essential building block for life. The finding supports theories that some of the organic material needed for life had extraterrestrial origins and arrived on Earth on comets and meteors. Vitamin B3, also known as niacin, is a component of a chemical compound called nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD) which is essential for metabolism and thought to be ancient in origin. 

‘We found that the types of organic compounds in our laboratory-produced ices match very well to what is found in meteorites,’ said Karen Smith of Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. 

‘This result suggests that these important organic compounds in meteorites may have originated from simple molecular ices in space. This type of chemistry may also be relevant for comets, which contain large amounts of water and carbon dioxide ices. 

‘These experiments show that vitamin B3 and other complex organic compounds could be made in space and it is plausible that meteorite and comet impacts could have added an extraterrestrial component to the supply of vitamin B3 on ancient Earth.’ 

Supernovae explosions produce vast dust clouds in space that then compress under their own gravity, giving birth to solar systems.

Layers of frost - made from carbon dioxide, water and other gases - form on these dust particles just like frost builds up on a car window on a cold night.

Radiation in space powers chemical reactions in this frost layer to produce complex organic molecules, possibly including vitamin B3, according to researchers.

These icy grains become incorporated into comets and asteroids, some of which end up colliding with young planets like Earth, delivering their organic molecules. 

To simulate this process, Nasa researchers created cold space-like conditions in their Cosmic Ice Laboratory at Nasa Goddard.