Violent impacts from comets and other hurtling bodies can pepper planets and their moons with the molecular building blocks of life, new research suggests. The high-speed collisions unleash intense shock waves that can turn simple organic compounds found in comets and on icy worlds into amino acids, which make proteins, cells and ultimately all living organisms. The findings suggest that rather than being a purely destructive force, the impacts increase the chances of life originating and being widespread across our solar system. "We know that impacts are very common in the solar system, because we can see the craters left behind on different planetary bodies," said Zita Martins, an astrobiologist at Imperial College London. "If impacts occur then more complex molecules can be made, so these building blocks of life could be widespread throughout our solar system." Scientists have previously used computer models to demonstrate that shock waves could turn simple molecules found in icy comets, such as ammonia, carbon dioxide and methanol, into complex amino acids. Researchers then tested the idea by reconstructing celestial impacts in the laboratory. Writing in the journal Nature Geoscience , the UK and US researchers said an impact at around seven kilometres per second produced scores of amino acids in one ice mixture.