There aren’t a lot of individual experiments that have ended up being staples of high school textbooks, but Stanley Miller and Harold Urey did one of them. Miller and Urey are the people who sealed up a mixture of gases meant to model the Earth’s early atmosphere and jolted the gas with some sparks. What emerged was a complex mix of chemicals that included amino acids, the building blocks of proteins.
It was a seminal experiment in that it gave researchers one of the first avenues to approach the origin of life experimentally, but its relevance to the actual origin of life has faded as the research it inspired began to refine our ideas. A French-Czech team of researchers decided to give it another look, using a source of energy that Miller and Urey hadn’t considered: the impact of a body arriving from space. The result? The production of all four of the bases found in RNA, a close chemical cousin to DNA and equally essential to life.